Snow of the Cottonwoods
In the bright, warm afternoon a light breeze makes the small, heart-shaped cottonwood leaves flash the glistening sunlight. The only sound is the rushing Rio Grande. White tufts from the trees fall thick as a heavy snow and coat the ground.
Last night two large raccoons foraged through the camp. I shined a flashlight on one and he turned toward me. His eyes were bright green; sort of an eerie color in the darkness. Today a camper told me that his neighbor’s ice chest was raided and he lost the only trout he had caught, a big Brown that was put aside for dinner. Although, obviously not intended for the raccoon’s dinner. Raccoons and bears make a good living on unsecured caches of food.
Novice campers, mostly from a city, are a welcome sight when they are a hundred yards or so away. The night scavengers will be so busy with the bounty of goodies at those camps they pose no problem elsewhere.
Low western streaks of sunlight make shadows across the campground. Little is moving. The rabbits and squirrels have yet to come out and start making their rounds searching for small bits of food. There are also birds, plus deer and peccaries when the moon is right.
I smile. My mind has taken me back to days in the Appalachian forest with my family. I could hardly wait for the right time of year to go out and dig sassafras root with Nana. In the autumn my father and I would tramp through the woods from first light to last with our squirrel guns, not really caring how many squirrels we got. It was being out there in the wilds together that was important. And when we got home all dirty and sweaty and wore out Mama always had that same smile that promised love and warmth and hot cocoa in a big iron pot. I liked the rubbery skin on the top best and would always try to get to it first, just like chocolate pudding.
If you have never had real hot chocolate made in a big ol’ iron pot, sweetened with honey and then a sprinkle of cinnamon on top in your cup, you missed something special. The steam off the top smells just like it came from Heaven and that first sip is pure magic. Well, if you do not burn your lips.
It is a funny thing how people deal with memories when they get older. It seems that most folks want to grieve about the past, the things they used to have or what they can no longer do and it makes them sad. For me, looking back with joy is a heck of a lot more fun. I once heard a psychologist say that every time you reminisce with joy in your heart you add another day to your life. I sort of hope not. I might live to be 200 years old and I have enough trouble working the electronic gizmos of today.
Actually, the best thing on this particular day was not electronic but a Vermillion flycatcher that landed on a post not far from my camp. He sat there long enough for a bit of bird modeling. Though, being without my tripod made steadying the camera at 20-power a challenge, for sure.
The Weather Witch is calling for a thunderstorm tonight and that excites me. Southwest thunderstorms are truly dramatic. Spielberg would have a hard time besting such a production. Hail can fall in any month of the year. Both air-conditioner shrouds on my RV roof have holes made by ice balls, mostly about the size of a golf ball. (I am pretty sure I have never been parked by a course where Shack was playing). At times it is almost like being under artillery fire. That, I do not like. The lightning displays, however, are magnificent, sometimes continuing long after the rain has stopped, spiking across the black sky, daring anyone over the height of a Leprechaun (notice that in an effort to be politically correct I chose a mythical creature here so as to not raise the ire of midgets and dwarfs) to venture out. It appears she was right. The sky is now without birds or flying insects and the ants have gone underground even though the sun is shining.
Being out of Wifi range the critters are my best source of weather prediction other than NOAA, aka the Weather Witch; the only weather source that is usually as accurate as critters and my grandmother.
The wind has been raging for three days now. Attempts to venture out were not very pleasant. Broken tree limbs are scattered around, some big enough to spear a convertible car top and really wreck your ‘do.’ One would think that with 20 – 30mph wind, gusting to 50mph insects would not be a bother. One would be wrong. Desert insects adapt to their environment just as all other species do and these annoying critters have super gripping feet to withstand the desert wind. When you grab one to pick it off your arm you can feel the adhesion of their feet pulling at your skin. I dubbed the ones that suck blood, Lawyer-bugs. I did not discover them, so the name is not official, but feel free to use it at your leisure.
I sometimes wonder what the Spanish explorers thought of this strange land when they got here in the early 1500’s. Coming from Western Europe would certainly be a shocking experience. Many people today do not realize, or just stop to think about how long ago that was. Cabeza de Vaca and troops arrived in 1528 and Santa Fe was settled in 1608. The American West is starting to get gray hairs. Here is something to think about. The Anasazi (“Ancient Pueblo People”) arrived in the four Corners area (where Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet) during the Christian era, circa 2,000 years ago. Okay, that is a far cry from ancient Greece, but people talk about the Disco era like it was so long ago that maintenance crews had to clean Mastodon dung out of the parking lots.
Coming back to today I am a little disappointed that there will be no campfire again tonight. Mother Nature simply will not allow it. The wind has picked up again to a point of fierceness. When a sparrow ‘breaks the sound barrier’ I am amazed it’s feathers are not stripped right off. Flycatchers and Swifts actually fly in this sort of wind and I can only imagine the thrill of such dare devil stunts. I think I heard a bird scream, “All cooties, bail out!” (Charlie will appreciate that).
So now it is time to head out. Getting my kayak on a lake is my immediate concern, but the weather will have to calm down a bit. At least it is not snowing.
Snow is rare in the desert southwest, so when the cottonwoods
start ‘snowing’ it is almost like a little taste of home. Better though in a way; I do not have to shovel it.