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.)