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Red Willow Spirit: A Little Water, a Lot of Life

The air feels weighty this morning, clean and slightly damp. For the first time in months, we have had rain.

For weeks, the thunderheads have built up on all sides, monsoonal patterns clearly here — and just as consistently, the winds have blow the storm over, around, or out entirely. In recent years, this land seems caught in a negative vortex, a small still center around which the rains spiral but never fall.

Yesterday seemed as though it would be no exception: As the clouds reached critical mass, the winds arrived in force, seemingly posed to push them back past the peaks whence they hovered, to points east where they could race across the flatlands unimpeded.

But here, the winds change direction with astonishing rapidity, and what was born an ordinary late-spring gale soon transformed into something darker, more powerful yet. As the air spiraled around us, only a few dozen drops managed to connect with the bone-dry earth. The radar map glowed bright red, ominous warnings bannered across the top of the screen, leaving us to worry that another twister might spin itself into being.

And then, just as rapidly, it spun out high above us, leaving the cloud cover intact and the rain falling in a soft, steady cascade. These lands of Red Willow were blessed with a couple of hours’ worth of gentle rain the rest of the evening punctuated here and there by sprinkles — the best sort of precipitation for an earth as dry as ash. And as the clouds parted gradually, they revealed a second gift: a thin dusting of snow on the peaks, not enough to make up for the ongoing drought, but perhaps just enough to add a little runoff to the network of downward-flowing ditches and streams.

And this morning, the world seems, however impossibly, already greener in the dawn light.

This year, we must value such green as we are given more than ever, nurture it, urge it to grow and leaf and fruit and flower.

There will be little help from the river this year, and it already shows in the land. In years past, the mountain river that feeds our irrigation system has mostly looked like the image above: a slow but steady flow, faster and harder in mid-spring, with small falls that turn its tumbling cascade into tiny momentary rapids that even out again into a pooling stream.






There is unlikely to be much in the way of falls or rapids through Red Willow this year.

Still, on a few glorious days this season, the water has come: slower, more hesitant, even tentative; but it has come. We have had the occasional pool in the pond, and once or twice, it has even filled, if only for part of a day. The earth here is so dry that it sucks every last drop of moisture into the surface before it can evaporate.

Until yesterday evening, that was all we had.

On this day, the fields are still more dry than not, too many brown patches disturbing what should already be a lush carpet of grass and alfalfa. By now, we would have irrigated once — in more normal circumstances. This year, we may not irrigate at all.

This is, we fear, our normal now.

Still, the clouds that parted with the dawn have begun to return, or at least the followers among their clan approach. The heavens are once again more gray than blue, multistoried thunderheads towering above the peaks like a real Pueblo village in the sky. Beneath their shade, our earth here is brighter than it was yesterday, its scent cleaner and the air more alive. The honeysuckle has begun to bloom for the first time this year, and aspen and willow alike seem newly awakened and alert to the world around us, as though they have caught the scent of new rain upon the wind.

This part of the high desert is rich in flora and fauna alike, lush with diversity of life and color, shape and sound. The drought has dimmed its glow a bit, taken some shine from its surfaces and muted its hues. That makes last night, and today, all the more a gift, because here? Here, from a little water, a lot of life is born.

~ Aji









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