Aug 29, 2013
-a swallow dipped and curved over the same half block, movements echoing the shape of the orange cloud tinged by the sunset.
- a tall dog waded ankle deep in an emptying ditch
- on the surface of the shallow water, bubbles rose in concentric circles. Chunky 5 inch crawdad swam, visible!
- tiniest skimmers – water striders?
- each steep muddy bank revealed rows of crawdad holes
A lot has happened in 3 and a half months here in the mid Rio Grande valley. Where we as a family are “perched,” less than a mile from the east shore, we are first to see the river and ditch water coming into the 15-20 miles that is Albuquerque when we take our walks.
June saw river levels stretch from shore to shore. On walks past-sunset approaching darkness, I saw my first muskrat swimming faster than my walking, skinny tail, husky body, nose and eyes above water.
Another nite a coyote stopped and stared at us 200 feet away and my dog wanted to join him.
Then, there was the dusk when another nose and eyes swam from shore out into the river, and then slapped the water with its tail – first beaver seen in the wild for me.
In that same month of June, a Kingfisher was on a wire above the ditch, another first.
It was right after the beaver sighting that the months-promised shut-off of the river happened. July 1 was the promised date for not supplementing the flow to the river, in turn to the ditch system. Out of Cochiti Dam, no extra water would be released. I walked most days that first week, to observe how low the river and the ditches got and all the changes. Of course the actual Rio Grande State Park land along the Rio was officially closed – restricting access as in so many recent years due to the extreme dryness of the riverside forest, so I was breaking the law by going over there.
I, like many people living in New Mexico, carried in the beginning of the summer a burden of dread because of the dryness. I had many plants in my yard die or struggle or not come back (see previous post). Much of my professional life was engaged with this reality – I work with a team of families doing The Learning Garden, was preparing for drought murals in the Art Adventures Camp and getting ready to teach Nature Detectives Camp for K-2nd graders. I was reading colleagues’ writings detailing water politics and speculating outcomes. I was obsessed with the thought of extreme water-rationing. Reports abounded of wild animals traveling to the river corridor – at lease once a week a story of bears in neighborhoods.
Our 8th meeting of the Learning Garden first week of July had us planting our first plants there – a flat of Maximillian Sunflowers – after laying down soaker hoses. We heaped on 2 bales of straw for mulch. The next day the city had its first rain shower in 7 months that actually made puddles. At the end of July gleeful meteorologists were reporting a record-breaking rainfall for July of 2.7 inches.
Trips to the river (the forest and bosque travel bans lifted) provided a changed stream bed almost every visit. At one visit, red mud lined the bar and bank – we collected the top inch of clay – and predicted it was from the Jemez. After bigger rains, there was evidence of river level rising 2 feet.
We had experienced a miracle. Our monsoon season came early and stayed with us and the plants and soil and 2 and 4 leggeds sensed relief.
Now, at the end of August, we are back to the dry cycle, with more weeds since the wet summer of 2006. And the water levels, as reported in first paragraph, are the lowest yet.