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Monday Photo Meditation: A Steady Will and a Strong Heart

Quartzite Rapids

Last week, we had occasion to drive down through the Gorge, where the highway wends its way downhill alongside the Rio Grande. These are old tribal lands, too, their indigenous inhabitants long since displaced. After all, modernity calls: Indeed, the last near half-year the highway has been subject to virtually daily roadblocks while state road crews reroute a gas pipeline.

It’s made for less than pleasant travel, of course, but it’s meant that the wildlife population in the Gorge has decreased significantly, too. There haven’t been many bighorn or other animals for years now, but the wild birds are far scarcer this year than usual.

That’s not all that’s scarce.

After what has been, as far as anyone remembers, a winter of record warmth and drought, the water level is also perilously low. Those unfamiliar with the Gorge’s own distinct patterns wouldn’t know it at a glance, but a stop along the edge of the highway to look over the rapids — or, rather, what at this time of year should be rapids — confirms that far too little water for the season now flows through this great artery of our bit of earth.

The image above is an old one, from perhaps a dozen or so years ago. Then, the winter snows still came if not precisely thick and fast, and least at their usual steady pace and volume. Far more recently than that, it was customary to have our first snow by mid-October, real weather from November through April, and the occasional flurry into May (and once, memorably, in mid-June). And it wasn’t just that it snowed relatively routinely; that might mean anything from a dozen flurries to a full-blown blizzard. No, winter used to mean a fair number of real snowstorms throughout the season, the kind that result in a foot (or two, or three) of snow that sticks around for a while.

Last week, the water line was lower than it should have been. Perhaps more obviously, the waters were not their usual furious spring cascade, with only small turbulences here and there to punctuate long stretches so still as to proffer up a near-perfect reflection.

What does the snow (or lack thereof) of the winter just ended have to do with the forward-looking ways of spring?

Here, everything.

What the photo shows is a healthy habitat, one with sufficient water for the spring and summer months to support the local wildlife, and also to be diverted along the way for the irrigation of crops. But water at that level doesn’t just appear by magic: It’s the melt, the run-off from the winter’s snowpack. In very literal terms, the amount of snow a winter delivers determines the health and balance of our small world here for the rest of the year.

Our snowpack is down between sixty-six and sixty-seven percent, at last report.

That makes this one of the most drought-stricken regions of a state already dangerously dry everywhere.

It also means that we will be in for a difficult year. Absent heavy late snows and early monsoons, water will be hard come by, and soon. Even if the rains should come early, it will hope only slightly: The rainy season here is one of harsh and punishing extremes, more likely to batter the earth and run off in a flash flood than to soak into a thirsty soil. the great benefit of the winter snows is that the spring runoff allows for preparing the ground in advance, so that it is equipped to receive the rains, to nurture the seeds rather than wash them away.

This year’s crops may be substantially limited in size and volume and variety.

And so we must adjust, adapt, approach our thinking and planning anew. That will mean more work. it will mean trial and error, and failure, too. It will require us to become like the waters, themselves: often slow, always insistent, with a steady will and a strong heart.

~ Aji







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