When the rain comes…

Jay on Oak.2-17-18

Scrub Jay on Scrub Oak

Here in the ecological intersection between high desert, pinion-juniper and coniferous forests, sitting on the Continental Divide, people speak of “moisture.”  As in: “we sure need some moisture, it’s so dry.”  We welcome any kind of moisture–rain, snow, heavy fog.  Well, perhaps not fog, since it does nothing more than wet the leaves and leave garlands of itself girdling the mountains.  When it rains, this is the only place I know where we all run OUTSIDE to stand under the falling drops, faces tilted upward.

Golden Oak.2-17-18When the rain comes in late winter-early spring, the gray or scrub oaks turn golden brown and begin to drop their leaves. Gray/scrub oaks do not shed in the fall like  respectable deciduous trees in the East. Oak leaves hang on green until a little spring rain triggers the growth cycle of new buds, causing the old leaves to color, dry and fall away.  When we moved here, I learned quickly how both flora and fauna are rain-dependent; both time their reproduction cycles to the season most likely to provide moisture and food to sustain the next generation.

Grasses after rain.2-17-18There is a feast of colors when the rain comes. Rain intensifies colors in amazing ways.  Maybe that’s true everywhere and I just never noticed before.  Dry fields of grass just look like…well, grass!  Various shades of tan.  Nothing particularly exciting on the color palate.  After a couple of days of gentle rain, grasses show true colors of gold, gray, gray-green, and most particularly, red.

 

Wet lichen.2-17-18

 

 

Complementing the rainbow of grasses, wet lichens become emerald jewels against the rough bark of pinion trees and branches.

 

 

 

Fragrance of juniper.2-17-18The rain frees a fragrance that is unique to the Southwest.  You catch it the moment you step outside anytime there’s been enough of a sprinkle to wet the leaves.  After a steady farmer’s rain,  the air is sharply saturated.  Follow your nose to a halo of scent.  If it were visible, it would be a shimmering ether; even not visible it permeates the atmosphere, intoxicating.  More than ozone, here, it is literally the smell of rain: the Juniper tree.

 

 

 

 

With this rain event, we have received an average across the area of 2 inches, a hopeful sign where we worry about the threat of summer wild fires.  I stand outside and soak in the moisture; I walk and look and breathe.

 

On Twin Sisters Creek

Twin Sisters_

Twin Sisters in the background

Three people striding along, hiking poles marking their yards.  Two helmeted men pass on mountain bikes, as I pull Pumpkin off to the side.  Greetings exchanged, I recognize one of the riders: Happy Sunday, we smile.  Pumpkin insists on a bit of a gopher hunt, off in the grass.  Something over there is unseen but smelled, heard; she stops on point, ears forward.  C’mon, Pumpkin, here’up, pup.  At the intersection of trails, here is a couple with a small canine, pick-up-able.  “Which way are you going? I’ll take that way.” A jogger with her dog,  on leash but curious.  She pauses and the dogs’ noses touch briefly; a bit of Labrador in both, hers black, mine mahogany.  Another mountain biker, slowly negotiating the narrow trail through the grasses and across the stony stream bed.  Move Pumpkin into the weeds on the side and receive a grateful nod.  She’s off again on a nose-hunt.  Pushing through the grass, snuffling, stopping to sneeze out the dust.  Through two gates and a couple of miles down the trail, we come to our turn-around point.

Target Practice.Ft BayardThis old metal frame is another bit of  Fort Bayard history.  According to my historian friend from our Tuesday hiking group, this frame was in the service of target practice for the Buffalo Soldiers.  Behind the frame is a bit of hill embedded with wooden boards that served as the backstop for the balls that pierced either the targets or with poorer aim, the metal frame itself.

On our way back to the trailhead, we are passed by yet two more bikers, these with a dog off leash, panting along in pace with them.  The dog hesitates slightly at sight of Pumpkin but keeps moving in response to the demand of the bikers.

We encounter a hiker unfamiliar with this trail.  Once I’ve told him where the trail goes and where it intersects with trails more familiar, we chat for several minutes.  Knees, hips and legs — an organ recital typical of folks our age; a touch on politics, just enough to admit that he is Libertarian and tends to avoid political discussions (altho he brought it up) and an avowed tree-hugger (me, since he mentioned having a few as friends).  Actually I just wanted to make sure he knew what specific topics to avoid as he avoided the general topic of politics.  3.7 miles later, we were back at the truck, sharing a granola bar.

It was a beautiful Sunday as so many of our days are, here in the high desert of the Southwest.  It was a good day to be on a trail along a creek lined with magnificent old cottonwoods, with the Twin Sisters in the distance in one direction, and the Stars and Stripes flying over the veterans cemetery, visible just over the ridge, on the grounds of the old fort.  Our public lands.  We are healthier, physically, emotionally, spiritually because those lands exist, because we can hike them, hunt them, bike them, bird them.  It’s a fact!

Wagon Ruts of Ft Bayard

High on the side of the hill, the slick rock has preserved a bit of the history of Ft Bayard, Grant Co, NM.  

The fort was established in 1866 and manned primarily by Buffalo Soldiers as a protection for settlers in the region against the Apache.  Ft Bayard has a storied history, though it is now unused and falling into ruin.

At the time of the Buffalo Soldiers, Ft Bayard was powered by wood.  The surrounding hills provided an unending (or so it seemed) source of trees to be cut and transported down to the fort for firewood; wood hauled in wagons with wooden wheels, which had iron rims.

Even stone cannot resist repeated friction forever.

 

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Barry Hardy, Syncretist

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