June 11, 2003
It rained yesterday. The clouds moved in with heavy portent from the west in the late afternoon, and I hurried to complete the yard clean-up I was doing. The first drops, the size of saucers, slapped against my face and arms as I struggled with the latch on the new gate, and I jumped every time thunder rolled through the sky, the lightening coming closer and closer, but not yet dangerous.
I finally left it and dashed inside just as the wind swept in, ripped a hole in the tarp of the sky, and rain poured down as if a barrel had been knocked over.
Poured. And poured and poured. Lightening danced and thunder roared, and the rain poured.
We joke that our street is an arroyo, which is a ditch that forms on the high desert to carry away water from storms like these, because when it storms like this, water fills the street curb to curb, rushing like a river over the blacktop, carrying with it tree branches and rocks and whatever else falls into its current. People build elaborate water breaks to deflect the river’s force from their yards and lawns and flowers. The instant the storms are over, children rush out to wade until the river is once again spent.
I love the quirkiness of this sometimes-river. I love to watch it. Love to see what it carries, love the power of it, flowing so wildly down the ordinary channel of an ordinary neighborhood street. It’s a part of summer, the late afternoon thunderstorms through June and July, and the river that flows down my street.
Yesterday was the first time I’d seen it in at least two years.
Last summer, there was no rain. Not any. The clouds sometimes rolled in, but the rain never fell all the way to the ground. It would sometimes fall most of the way before evaporating, and the perfume of it hanging in the air, tortured us all. Our noses quivered, our faces lifted to the sky, but the rain never struck our hopeful flesh, the dead-dry ground. Ranchers sold their cattle, unable to feed them from the lifeless grasslands. Farmers turned their backs on their withered fields. Fires burned and burned and burned, in the grasslands, in the mountains, in the National Forests. Water restrictions dried up lawns and people saved dishwater to pour on their roses. I did, anyway. It’s not strictly allowed (and not for the reasons you might think–dirty water–but because once I have used the water that flows out of my pipes, it no longer belongs to me, but to someone else downriver), but I couldn’t bear to see them die.
It was terrible, I must tell you. There are those who say it was the worst period of drought in the state’s history. I believe it.
Somehow, though, the circle of life seems to always turn again, and in the early spring, it snowed sometimes. We were startled by it at first. Rejoicing in the moisture, but distrustful. Through March and April, though, the usual spring snows and rains blustered through. Denver had its worst blizzard in its history, a snowstorm that packed as much snow onto the mountains as had fallen over the past two years in some places.
And now, in June, the reservoirs are still not full enough, but the land doesn’t care how much water there is stored for city dwellers. The land is rejoicing.
The first sign was the lilacs. There are a lot of lilac bushes in Southern Colorado. They like the strong sunny skies and cool nights, and they’ve always been one of my favorite flowers. It’s always pleasant for the week or two every year that they’re gracing the landscape with their color and perfume.
This year, the lilacs didn’t just bloom, they exploded into such a profusion of blossoms that the air was narcotic with the smell of them. We walked around dazzled by them, commenting to one another at the Monet-like bounty of them, our eyes starved for the sight of flowers, blooming again.
And the lilacs were only the beginning. In the cities, the roses came next, and it was as if they were in competition with each other to see which bush or vine could have the most staggering number of flowers. One of mine, a delicately colored pinkish-white one, had so many blooms I had to stake it, and it’s not even a climber.
But it’s outside of the cities and the careful tending of human hopes and hands where the celebration is most astonishing. The mountain fields are alight with wildflowers–orange and blue and delicate whites, a patchwork of color against the brilliance of emerald, knee-deep grass and the blue of the mountains and the sparkling freshness of that newly-washed sky.
Someone told me, when I commented on the profusion of blossoms this spring, that it wasn’t the rain that made everything bloom so wildly. It was the drought itself. The response of threatened plants is to produce twice as many blossoms in the hopes of continuing the species. It’s a survival mechanism. If the drought had continued, at least some of the flowers would have bloomed and been fertilized and sent out seeds to lie on the dry ground until the rains came again.
Because the rains came, every blossom had the chance to open and survive.
I sat on my porch as the river flowed down my street, thinking about that, the wonder of it. Thinking about the cycles of nature–drought, fire, clearing, rest; then rain, nuturing, production–and how life goes that way, too.
And then I stepped off my porch, risking lightening for three seconds, to let a full bucket of rain come down on my head, too. Though I wouldn’t alarm my neighbors by dancing, in my heart and soul, I was. I held out my arms and lifted my face, and danced.
Til next time….