Monday, July 1, 2013
Gratitude and Grief
Both of us woke up around 3 a.m. this morning and listened appreciatively to the sound of a hard soaking rain falling on our thirsty pines, handicapped by drought in their mortal struggle against the continental infestation of bark beetles.
Some have already lost, like the casualty above. It's one of a half dozen or so we told Jerry, who looks after things around here for us, to take down while we were traveling. We asked him to leave the stumps high, thinking we might mount a carving of some kind on one or more of them.
So the property looked a little forlorn when we returned from New York and got our first look at how much shade the bugs have stolen from us. Worse yet, we noticed that another smallish tree has turned brown at the top and will have to go.
And worst of all, the two largest pines we have, which have been looking paler and paler with each passing season, are now past the point of denial. We can't put off the inevitable much longer, Jerry says. When there's no more juice, the beetles will jump merrily to the nearest healthy tree and party on.
This is the start of what locals call the monsoon season, when thunderheads catch their feet on the tops of nearby Sierra Blanca and the rest of the Sacramento's and spill daily deluges. But for the past several years, the rains have been increasingly meager, and the forecast for this summer and the foreseeable future is for more of the same.
Ruidoso and surrounding Lincoln County exist in a state of painful ambivalence about rainfall. On the one hand we need as much as we can get for the sake of our trees and also to replenish our own water supplies. Runoff after last year's Little Bear fire ruined several important reservoirs.
On the other hand, a heavy storm over one or more of those burned out watersheds could trigger dangerous flooding and more damage, to say nothing of the possibility of a lightning strike like the one that started Little Bear.
That doomsday scenario has raised the stakes still further on prompt removal of dead trees and brush from around homes and other structures, which will be easier to defend if there's less fuel.
Last night's rain came without thunder and seemed like the kind we could accept thankfully without any mixed feelings. We lay in the dark, enjoying the steady drum on the roof and the deck and feeling quietly happy.
Then Pam reached for her phone as she often does in the wee hours if sleep isn't coming, and there at the top of her news alerts was word that 19 firefighters were dead in a wildfire northwest of Phoenix, overtaken by some kind of catastrophic flareup or change of direction that overwhelmed their emergency shelter equipment.
Notwithstanding our comforting bit of rain, we're living in a vast region that some experts say is in the early stages of a 30-year drought. We're all betting that the lives and livelihoods we enjoy today will be the same tomorrow, but the odds are getting slowly longer and the dice are rolling daily.
After my health misadventures of recent weeks, I scarcely needed a reminder that everything you know and love can turn on a dime in a dark direction. But life has a way of sending such reminders anyway, whether you need them or not.