Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Vernal Reflections in Passing

I've just returned home from a six-week road trip. I left Missouri March 11 in snow and returned April 21 in spring. It was a world of difference.

We (Sara Peters, Ma'ikwe, and I) woke up Saturday morning at Hummingbird, an established community of about 20 gentle souls where we have many friends. They own a breathtakingly beautiful 500 acres of land outside Mora NM (about 50 miles northeast of Santa Fe). Before getting into the car for a back-to-back days of close confinement, the three of us took a few minutes to commune quietly next to a babbling creek that runs through the property, the water clear and ice cold from snow melt.
While our reality Saturday morning wasn't as green as this view from Hummingbird (which was probably taken in late May or even June) it accurately captures how much snow was still visible on the tops of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to our northwest.

The last leg home was 930 miles, descending gradually from an altitude of 7500 feet at Hummingbird to 800 feet at Sandhill Farm in northeast Missouri; from a place that averages 20 inches of annual rainfall (and is currently choked in the grip of a horrific drought) to a place that gets 38 inches of rain on average (and has been blessed with more than five inches the last two weeks). We may as well have been coming from the moon, the difference was that stark.

Our drive home started by winding down from the foothills of the Rockies, traversing northeastern NM, and then threading the needle through the panhandle of western OK. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) much of that stretch is in "exceptional" drought (which is their most dire category). When we crossed the Cimarron River (a major tributary of the Arkansas) northeast of Guymon OK, there was no water in it. I don't mean little water; I mean none. When you reflect on the fact that we were traveling through in April—ordinarily the wet season—that's Dust Bowl sobering.

From there we went across southern Kansas, where the drought gradually lessened to "extreme." I want you to get a clear impression of how dry it's been in the Great Plains. While there were occasional green shoots visible on some of the more precocious trees, it seemed more a measure of silvicultural bravery than an indicator of subsoil moisture. These areas are badly in need of rain.

Happily, we were working our way toward water the whole drive, and by the time we got past Wichita (in east-central Kansas), the drought had improved all the way to "severe." Lawns and wheat fields started looking positively Irish. After crossing the Missouri at Kansas City the moisture pendulum continued its swing toward the moist and we witnessed standing water in low lying fields all across northern Missouri. What drought? What a juxtaposition!

Driving the last segment in our home state, I started translating the landscape into what I'd likely find at home. My first concern was whether the season was advanced enough to find morels. It didn't look like it. Usually you need to see a substantial amount of leafing among elms & maples, and there were only smudges of green among the trees as we zoomed passed at 55 mph. Whew. I was only going to be home for 60 hours and was loathe to miss mushroom hunting.

Next I thought about what would be flowering. For sure, the henbit would be making its annual appearance, smearing the gardens and cultivated fields in broad swatches of tiny pink/purple flowers, rather like a delayed splash of Easter excess (where they had to do something with the surplus pastels). This wildly successful and broad-ranging plant is a relative of the mint family. Though a weed, it provides a beneficial early pollen source for honeybees and is not much of a nuisance because it disappears from the agricultural scene before we get into serious soil cultivation. Besides that, it's offers the eye a mood-elevating contrast after the monchromatic palette of winter.

While the forsythia was already in decline, and the redbuds were just coming into their prime, the thing I was most looking forward to was a little cluster of grape hyacinth just outside the back door of the White House (which is the hub of Sandhill). They are one of the things that evokes my Mom's older sister, Aunt Hennie—my patron saint of homesteading. Because she had them in the backyard of her rambling house in Elmhurst IL all of my childhood years, the sight of these delicate blooms invariably evokes her presence in my soul. Her I am basking in their aura:
Finally, I thought of these whimsical and topical four lines of doggerel that were first published in 1951—when I was a mere tad of two—and which I got reacquainted with this past February while randomly skimming through a copy of Pogo, happily available as reading material in Harvey Baker's necessary at Dunmire Hollow. This is what Walt Kelley had to say about spring:

How pierceful grows the hazy yon!
How myrtle petaled thou!
For spring hath sprung the cyclotron
How how browse thou, brown cow?

It was good to be home again.

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