Parched…and Yet

Sunrise on June 14, tinted with smoky haze.

I knew these days would come.

In late spring for the last several years, I have nagged myself to remember—and be grateful for—the luxury of going into summer with moisture in the ground.

How pleasant those days were. I didn’t have to witness the slow crisping of tender young leaves, didn’t have to stand by as the first flush of spring green faded back to straw: growth suspended not by cold but by dry, pure and simple.

I was free to relish the clear air and the crisp-edged sunrises and sunsets. I could forget about red flag warning and enjoy the absence of nervous gossip about who was ordered to evacuate in front of what fire.

The break from persistent fire-related anxiety was wonderful. But now it’s all back—the so-crisp-it-shatters grass, the burn bans, the smoke in the air, the nervous checking of both horizons and weather forecasts. The hot winds are blowing again, lifting the hackles on the back of my neck. Jangled awake by the sharp scent of smoke drifting in through open windows, I tiptoe through the house at night, scanning the dark horizon outside for orange glow. I stand some chance of falling back to sleep if I reassure the fearful lizard core of my brain that the smoke has been carried across the mountains from someone else’s fire.

I’m not thrilled by the return of fire weather, but I’m not surprised, either. Like I said, I knew these days would come. What I had forgotten to remember is that the world does not stop when they do.

The grasses that shatter underfoot are biding their time: dormant, not dead. The bluebirds are feeding their young, who erupt in famished shrieks whenever an adult returns to the next box. The mule deer bucks are sprouting velvety knobs on their foreheads, while the does either plod belly-heavy or prance casually away from me, feigning ignorance of fawns secreted somewhere behind them, spotted brown hides invisible in the brown grass.

Mice spend the night digging up bean seeds in the garden, coyotes whinny at dawn, Steller’s jays rove through the pine trees by day, yelling, and nighthawks swoop through smoke-hazed air at dusk. The rattlesnakes are nosing into the dusty burrows of ground squirrels. The horses wander in from their far pasture in the heat of the afternoon, staring expectantly at me if I’m working around the barn and garden. They’re hoping for fly spray to quell the plague of horseflies tormenting them—flies that arrive every year at this time, in dry weather or wet.

Meanwhile, candles of new growth adorn the ponderosas, whose catkins have already loosed clouds of pollen, coating surfaces—outside and in—with superfine yellow grit. Some of the abundant dust has no doubt found its way to the new cones on the branches’ tips:  spiny lilac-colored swellings that look like exotic tropical fruits rendered in miniature. The currants and thimbleberry shrubs have unfurled their leaves and put out flowers. They might settle for producing hard knots of seeds rather than plump pulpy berries, but they’ve got work to do, and they’re doing it.

Out in the straw that is the grass right now, the wildflowers are doing their jobs as well, attracting pollinators and admiration with elaborate petals folded out of jewel-toned tissues. The display is modest; the plants’ leaves are small and the flower stems are short, but even more than in an average year, or a rain-abundant one, the flowers knock me back in awe. I crunch through brittle grass, marveling at the business of life carrying on, fire weather be damned.

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2 Responses to Parched…and Yet

  1. It is even worse now than when you wrote these lines a few weeks back, Andrea. Record-breaking temps and new wildfires. I hope July will bring some rains to you and the rest of the state.

  2. Andrea Jones says:

    Yes, Tanja, and the fires continue to erupt. Hoping for rain all around. I hope everyone stays safe.

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