Full Moon, August 2022
Credit to: Frances E. Vandal
After the fires came rains. Thunderclouds replaced the pyrocumulonimbus, what NASA calls the fire breathing dragon clouds, made by the smoke from the nearby wildfires. They rose daily over the Sangre de Cristo in May and June. Plumes and mushrooms of thick white clouds laced along the top of the mountains and grew into enormous, mythic-looking figures facing the city. The images were so striking that photos of them filled social media.
However, now in mid-summer thunderclouds formed and moved from north and west. They rose above the mountains spreading across the blue skies in waves of gray and darker gray. They promised rain and sometimes it fell in torrents that pounded the earth and roofs and streets. Or it fell lightly in spacious drops for a few minutes. In the midst of a decades-old drought and the scarring of unprecedented spring wildfires, summer rain finally fell in northern New Mexico.
I became more acquainted with my backyard with its abundance of green growth that came from what had been hard-packed dirt. Purslane covered the ground quickly and I was repeatedly told how delicious its small leaves were in a salad. Weeds sprouted as did wild flowers which sprung from seeds I’d scattered hoping they’d bloom. Birds of all sorts – towhees, finches, doves, scrub jays, sparrows and tanagers – came to the two birdfeeders and searched for insects among the growing green. Two ravens, likely bonded for life, came and went from the tall branches of the Chinese elms next to the house, calling with their deep, croaking voices. A gray squirrel glided across the top of the slanting coyote fence at the furthest end of the yard and at times would stop, completely still, and begin to cry a high call over and over. When I stepped into the yard, not sure what I would find, I would see him perched and seeming to stare right at me as he cried. I imagined he was demanding that he, too, dine on some bird seed.
One morning while pulling a few goat head plants nestled in the purslane, a gorgeous bright yellow caterpillar, some day to be a purslane moth, slid off a stem, its body circled in black stripes accenting the yellow. Soon I saw another, smaller, and I imagined younger, one. A monarch butterfly with its large orange and black wings skirt above the rising grasses. Rufous hummingbirds battled for drinking rights to the hummingbird feeders and darted over and down the fence and through the stems of the fragrant agastache. One morning a young Cooper’s hawk flew suddenly from the juniper tree past my dog, Maddie, and I as we walked into the yard.
I have struggled at times with living in the high desert, as beautiful and expansive as it is. Yet this summer with a series of circumstances and a nervous system which now seems on its way to healing and balance, I have slowed enough to see the sunlit caterpillar and the formation of clouds in the wide skies. Thousands of years of time vibrate in the stillness of its rocks and mesas and the slow movement of what rivers still hold even a trickle of water. Yet in a moment those waters can rush with the force of a flash flood and the rock which seemed so steady on the cliff side can loosen and fall unexpectedly into a landslide. Most striking is the bursting forth of red and yellow and magenta of desert flowers which are tropical in their brilliance and design.
Time presses on us in ways that can be overwhelming as the earth’s climate erupts into cascading effects of huge wildfires, megadroughts and floods. I have experienced nights waking in the dark with images of destruction in front of me and with the terror of uncertainty. It is the feeling of being on a train with no brake - going somewhere unknown, increasing in speed and with no way to slow down. Yet this summer when I lay on the ground and looked into the sky with its clouds passing by and blue appearing and disappearing behind their forms, time was only the moment. The ravens continued to call and my dog, Maddie, lay next to me for company.