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Monday Photo Meditation: Gray Skies and Green Shoots

Today we have something not much seen in this place: a steady, pouring winter’s rain.

Despite last year’s deepening of our long-term drought, rain is hardly unknown here; we have an entire monsoon season devoted to it — a season known elsewhere, simply, as summer. Winter storms are likewise familiar, but those tend to be snow, often measured in feet.

Even in spring, that season of showers on much of this land mass, rain is still mostly a stranger here.

In the few minutes we were inside the grocery store this morning, the rain shifted from the sort that produces puddles here and there to the kind that turns gutters to rivers and parking lots to lakes.

And in the time it has taken me to type those words, it has shifted from rain to heavy snowflakes to a mix of the two and back to rain again.

In this last full week of winter, we live among still-bare trees in a land of gray skies and green shoots.

According to the calendar, winter retains its hold for just over a week yet, but spring is everywhere in evidence. The trees remain as bare as the old cottonwood in the image above, an ancient sentinel along the great river, now gnarled with age, skin wrinkled like an elephant’s and a memory as long, too. But the ground, so long a mix of yellow and brown beneath the snow, is now decidedly, visibly greening outside the window. Where only days ago it took an effort to find the color in the few areas mostly sheltered from the winter winds, now it’s scattered solidly throughout even the most exposed ground surfaces.

But even in this newly greening world, we have plenty of chill winds and heavy weather ahead. We can learn from the cottonwoods.

There are plenty of these old soldiers here, although there are none on our land. Both north and south of us are small stands; across the highway, much larger ones, ranging from young saplings to an old pair that serves mostly as a perch for the corvids and the raptors now. Further uproad, they line the highway on both sides, along with aspens and the occasional willow, but downriver, they only appear in discrete units, small communities that have managed to take root at various bends along the Río Grande. The soil there is a rocky mix of sand and slate, with only the thinnest of bars, most places, in which even the smallest roots may find purchase. Upslope from the water, the mountainsides are dotted with chamisa and dwarf piñon, occasional sage, but deciduous trees are relatively few and far between. It’s hard to make it in such an unforgiving environment, no room for error, and those that manage it are often not the lushest-looking specimens, ready water notwithstanding.

These old warriors, though? They live on long after the last leaf has flowered. Oh, perhaps it’s not “living” in the sense that humans like to define the word; we are, after all, remarkably obsessed with centering ourselves to the exclusion of all else. But the trees are alive: with birds and insects and small mammals, with sandy soil and flowing water, with a bold stark beauty all their own.

They teach us hard lessons, too: among them, that there is good reason to stand strong and true no matter the weather or climate. Doing so leaves a legacy that lives on, nurturing green shoots in other forms, long after body and soul have gone as gray as the storm-filled skies.

~ Aji








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