log: other end of summer

Aug 29, 2013
Tonite …
-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.

new cactus frond growth in mid July, showing fleshy spines

new cactus frond growth in mid July, showing fleshy spines


9 Responses to “log: other end of summer”

  1. August 31, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Oh, so much here! First, the cactus is lovely. I have some spineless on my balcony, and am thinking the time has come to divide it and repot. Two pads that I broke off a year ago have been repotted, and now are rooted. One has new growth. If I’m going to do it, I need to get at it so I have time for the cut places to heal.

    Kingfishers are common here. I was surprised to read that seeing one was a first for you. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a beaver in the wild.

    And the red mud, perhaps from the Jemez… When I lived in Liberia, our bush pilot had flown there for years. During the dry season, when the harmattan winds blew from the Sahara, he could tell us which area the wind was blowing from because of the color of the dust: yellow, gray,pink. It was utterly amazing.

    We’re still hot and in drought. There’s no relief in sight. No one wants a hurricane, but a little tropical storm, with some nice 35 kt winds and inches of rain. Yes, that would be a blessing. But no hurricanes.

    • September 1, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      You all see Kingfishers there a lot? — we could have them here, but I haven’t seen them in our neck of the woods. I wish I had time to join the Thursday Birding group whose blog I read. Yes, utterly amazing about the dust colors in Liberia. That must have been an amazing place to be a pilot. I will wish for you a good rain. I didn’t report about our July 19 “tropical storm” in ABQ … we registered 89 mph winds — a record. With over an inch and a half of rain in 4 hours and hail … so much force that our ditch road almost washed out in some places – just from that one night. They were calling it a tropical storm here, inland!

      • September 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm

        We do have a lot of kingfishers – although they seem to spread out a good bit, requiring more territory than some of the other birds.

        We’ve had some rain. Here, there was 2.5″, and it came over two days. Perfect. They say we’ll have more this weekend, and a bit of a cool down. The fall is beginning to look like what normal used to look like. The lovebugs are here, and the jellies are swimming about – a sign that the salinity is just right. We’re seeing the first flocks of migrating blackbirds, just on time, and the first of the goldfinches are here.

        It feels so good – the only big difference is a remarkable crop of lizards! I’ve never seen so many baby lizards – mostly anoles and a brown striped Cuban migrant interloper. Some are only an inch long. But they do grow quickly!

  2. September 2, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Life in New Mexico, as I remember it from some 40 odd years ago, is a series of ebbs and flows. Extreme weather punctuated with extreme serenity. No shortage of beautiful days but no fear of an occasional sudden change.

    The creek near you must flow year round if it has crayfish, right?

    • September 5, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      No, Bill, our ditches don’t run all year – their gates are opened to fill by March 15 and usually are shut off by October 15. The situation we have with the crawdads losing their water usually happens at the end of October, not of August.

      This is what I’ve been hearing for a while about change – shifts will happen sooner – springtime thaws sooner, along with less snow fall, and warmer temps and winds meaning snow evaporates into the air more than melting into the soil and strata.

      As David Gutzler from UNM Dept of Earth & Planetary Sciences said at the opening to our Degrees of Change exhibit back in 2011, we will always have variability. There will always be fluctuations in rainfall and temperature every year. We will have wetter year and drier years, hotter or cooler. But seasonal timing is changing and how that affect species’ timetables – both plant and animal – will alter the outcomes in ways that are very different.

  3. September 14, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    Reading this I was struck by your mention of coyotes and beavers, both of which are problems for us here in Virginia. After a crazy rainy summer, we seem to have returned to our more normal drought conditions here. Hoping that your weather has balanced out some.

    • September 28, 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Thanks, Bill, for the good weather wish – well, maybe you heard — we set a record for rain in September! Our July was the 6th wettest on record. And the Weather Channel deemed New Mexico the state with the most extreme weather for 2013. One good thing is that we are out of the designation of Exceptional Drought, and have moved into “Severe” over most of our state. Albuquerque had a lot of trees die this summer.

      Coyotes and beavers causing problems? Wonder if you heard of John Davis, who, in 2011 did TrekEast, a 6 month travel from Florida to Maine- to raise awareness on wild animals’ need for connectivity – ways to move in and out of habitat … I would imagine there on the east coast the human population density makes it hard for wild animals to have the room to roam that they need to be able to expand their territory and it ends up encroaching on farmland.

    • December 25, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Great to have your presence, Jack! You are synonymous with what’s good about cyber connecting for me. Here’s wishing you a Merry Crhsitmas, too!

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