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