Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Snow – at last

It's been a near-historic drought year here in the south-central Rockies, and I've been uneasy for months. I know that I can't do anything about the weather, and that worrying doesn't change a thing, but I can't help feeling sympathy for the community of the land, the wild species whose relationships weave the fabric of this place. I am stitched to this high-desert landscape by the heart. When it hurts, so do I.

So I've worried as weeks have passed in between the scanty offerings of storms, and the weather has been warmer, windier, and dryer than normal. (Whatever "normal" means in the brave new world of global climate change, the unintentional experiment on a grand scale that we can only watch and hope won't be as bad as the models predict.)

In early October, a rare storm system graced this valley with 24 hours of much-needed rain and snow. I relaxed, thinking it was a harbinger of wetter weather. No. The storm passed, the sun returned, and the weather warmed up again beyond seasonal norms. For nearly two months, the sun shone, day after perfect day. The drought got worse. The soil dried to powder. The slopes of the ski area stayed bare.

Until yesterday at about twilight, when the storm the weather bureau had predicted would miss us didn't. It began with huge clumpy flakes of snow so wet they melted on contact, running straight into the soil and down the upraised faces of shrieking children. My husband Richard and I watched the snow swirl down and begin to stick with a cautious sort of joy.

If you've never gone for months without seeing a cloud block the sun for more than a few minutes or weeks without feeling the moist balm of a raindrop, it's hard to explain how huge is the relief when moisture finally suffuses the atmosphere. It's as if the very earth wakes up, and so does some essential part of us. The air fills with the fragrance of quadrillions of tiny creatures revived. Inhale that moisture, that fragrance, and your spirits just can't help rising.

All of life requires water--humans are something over 90 percent water by volume, and about 60 percent by weight. We may no longer live outdoors, exposed to the whims of weather and the appetites of other species, but we can still die of dehydration. Our cells remember that, from gut to brain.

So last night as the wet snow poured out of the sky and piled up, first half an inch, then an inch, then two inches, then six, forming a heavy and wet and white blanket over the landscape; as we shoveled and sweated and got soaking wet from within and without clearing our half-block of sidewalk plus the neighboring park; as we crawled into bed with aching muscles and the snow still sifting from the low clouds, Richard and I were almost giddy with relief.

And when we woke this morning to four more inches of crystalline powder that fell as the night's temperature dropped; as we shoveled our stretches of sidewalk again, tossing snow atop snow, we rejoiced. Moisture has returned to bless our high-desert landscape. Life resumes. Hallelujah!

(I shot these photos this morning at dawn. The first shows the creek we're restoring along one edge of our formerly blighted industrial property. The second is the raised beds of our kitchen garden--the two mounds that look like logs are broccoli, still green under their insulating snow-blanket . In the third, the first light is hitting the peaks above town.)

9 comments:

Theresa May said...

Susan, you won't believe this, but it snowed in Austin last night!! Okay, so it was for about ten minutes and nothing stuck, but what a glorious little miracle. I'm so happy, however, that you have shoveling . . . and I don't.

Susan J Tweit said...

Snow in Austin--that's amazing! It must have been astonishing, and yes, I can see how you'd be relieved to not wake up to my view. . . . Today's sun made a good start on melting our blanket (moisture never hangs around long here in the high desert) but it's still pretty and sparkly and very white.

turtlewoman said...

Thanks so much for the pics. of Salida where my husband and I lived for 3 years and still miss.

We can empathize completely with your statement (below) as we now live in the Sonoran Desert of AZ where we often go for months without a drop of moisture.

"If you've never gone for months without seeing a cloud block the sun for more than a few minutes or weeks without feeling the moist balm of a raindrop, it's hard to explain how huge is the relief when moisture finally suffuses the atmosphere."

Lindy

Susan J Tweit said...

Lindy, I'm glad that my snow photos give you your Salida fix! I hope you and your husband will make your way back to Salida again one of these years. We lived in the Chihuahan Desert of southern New Mexico for seven years and my family's roots in the Sonoran Desert go back to 1905, when my great-granddad moved to Tucson to study the desert (hence four of my eleven books about North America's deserts--you can see them on my web site, susanjtweit.com). I still find myself standing on Salida's F Street bridge sometimes and marveling that there is water in the Arkansas River--every day. That's a miracle only a desert rat truly understands.

turtlewoman said...

Susan wrote, "I still find myself standing on Salida's F Street bridge sometimes and marveling that there is water in the Arkansas River--every day. That's a miracle only a desert rat truly understands."

I had to laugh. :-D Every time I visit someplace outside of AZ and see water in a river I exclaim with great wonderment, "Oh my gosh, there's water in that river!" . . . and to think - I'm originally from MI - the Great Lakes state :-D

We do occasionally return to Salida for a visit when we need both a Salida fix and a Rocky Mountain fix not to mention a stop at First St. Cafe.

Thanks for your truly inspiring and beautiful blog - I follow it on a regular basis.

Lindy - rural central Sonoran Desert, AZ

Susan J Tweit said...

No matter your Great Lakes birthplace, Lindy, you've clearly absorbed the desert's soul if you understand the miracle of water in abundance.

Fresh water is truly this planet's lifeline, and life in the desert--whether the hot, low elevations of the Sonoran, or the cold desert here where at the foot of the Southern Rockies--teaches us to appreciate the liquid that sustains all life.

Tonight that water is frozen, as the temperature is plummeting below zero. Brrr!

Sherrie Y said...

Because I know you don't have enough to do: I've tagged you with the Brillante Weblog Award. Have fun! http://brushandbaren.blogspot.com/2008/12/overdue-thanks-and-kudos.html

eduardo said...

I was in the Piney Woods of Texas, all last week. The 8-12" of snow on your lawns was heavy rains, down there. I return at the very end of the day/night, Thursday, delighted to see so much snow welcoming me--surprised to learn how long it'd lasted.
Driving the last couple of hours, that evening, the nearly-full moon was so distractingly beautiful against all the lush white landscape.
And I left Texas, why...?

Susan J Tweit said...

Sherrie, I'm honored to be tagged. I'll respond as soon as I get settled in from being away on yet another book promotion road trip!

Eduardo, I'll answer your rhetorical question first: Colorado's home, snow and all. That's why you came back. And I'll ask another question: Are you writing about the Piney Woods and that distractingly beautiful moonlight on snow on the way back. Perhaps you need to answer your own question, in your own words.