Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring in the Rockies

This morning dawned with rain shushing softly on the metal roof of our house; now the showers have turned to snow: big clumpy flakes falling straight down like a steady rain of wet, pure-white feathers. The snow is melting, not accumulating, which is a mixed blessing here in March. Snow lasts longer than liquid water, seeping into the soil instead of running off the surface. But any moisture is welcome after four weeks of hot, dry winds that have dried the soil surface to dust and evaporated the snowpack on the peaks - our summer water - like a blow torch.

The green and crinkly leaves of spinach in my kitchen garden are now dotted with white clumps of snow. The new leaves on the golden currant shrubs along Ditch Creek just below our yard, the first trace of spring green in the wild except for big sagebrush, which keeps its gray-green and pungent leaves all winter long, stand out brilliantly against the rain-darkened stems. I haven't been outside to look, but I bet that the mosses and lichens that dot the surface of the soil in our restored bunchgrass and wildflower grassland are plumping up and turning green. They respond within minutes to even the smallest amounts of water, "waking up" from dormancy to make food and go about their lives in the brief periods of moisture that infrequently grace this arid environment.

It's spring in the house too. The seed trays that I planted last weekend with six kinds of tomatoes, four kinds of basil, oriental eggplants, and baby butterhead lettuces (thank you Rene Shepherd of Rene's Garden Seeds!) are dotted with tiny green sprouts. The flat with the tomato and eggplant seeds sits on a heat mat, and that extra bit of gentle warmth 24/7 means that the seeds began sprouting just four days after I planted them, and will grow larger, sturdier root systems, a distinct advantage when I put them out in the garden and they have to deal with spring weather here at 7,000 feet elevation in the south-central Rockies: hot days, nights below freezing until at least mid-May, and those blow-torch-like chinook winds. Spring here is not the least-lamb-like, but it's always interesting!

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