Watercolor Desert

I awoke to rain this morning and it has been raining all day. This has been a steady drizzle coming from a seamless gray sky. My usual landmarks; the Sandia Mountains and the Jemez Mountains those other mountains and mesas farther away, are invisible in the opaque mist. It is a little disorienting. The world seems closed in. The birds have all taken refuge somewhere…wherever birds go.  The only sounds are the dull white-noise of the drizzling rain and the staccato of the water falling off the roof through the canales…those boxy channels that drain water off of flat roofs in the desert southwest.  I have two large rain barrels that produce a low drumming sound…I can tell that they are full to capacity. They say we might have more intense storms this afternoon.

This is our monsoon season, the only wet and cloudy season we have. We have been in serious drought the last few years but this year, thanks to El Nino, we are making up for it. I don’t know how our rainy season will affect the long-term drought but we are closing in on the record for rainy years.  This is my first full experience with the monsoon season. I moved here a year ago and only saw a little of it — mostly the spectacular lightning storms that put on a big show but didn’t offer up much rain. This year it has been more rain than lightning. Albuquerque, some fifteen miles south of where I live, had a recent urban flash flood that stranded cars and prompted heroic rescues of stranded drivers and pedestrians.  I heard that Phoenix had a similar situation. My only crisis is trying to walk out to the road to retrieve my mail. My road is only partially paved…what actual pavement it once had is mostly a memory.  There is a slight depression that collects about six inches of water and turns my mailbox into an island.  I pull on my rubber boots and galumph out to the mailbox and try not to slip on the wet mud.  Usually the mail isn’t worth collecting and certainly not worth taking a bath for.

The one thing that I wish I could convey is how the desert smells in the rain. I am surrounded by sage, chamisa and saltbush that grow wild. In my front walled courtyard I have a small honeysuckle thicket and Pyracantha and Russian Sage along with desert willow and Mexican Bird of Paradise and trumpet vine. Everything puts out its small contribution to the rainy desert smells. There is a Pinyon pine just over the wall that makes a bigger contribution. Only the Russian Sage and honeysuckle and trumpet vine are showing blooms. Everything else is bloomed out but the plants still have a scent in the rain. There is no wind today so it all just hangs in the air. It is all very subtle and very pleasant.


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