Friday, June 25, 2010

Heat and Prayers

We're back from a month in the Colorado Rockies.  The triple digit heat is a bit of a shock.

When we left in late May it was certainly warming up.  The paloverdes had finally bloomed, making the desert feel as if pale sulfurous yellow clouds had descended to within a few feet of the ground.  The stately saguaros were starting to bloom, satisfying the white winged doves who'd arrived a few weeks before to fulfill one of their purposes in life of moving saguaro pollen from one cupped flower to the next.  The first strings of puff-ball baby quail were being squired through the backyard by their proud and watchful parents.

Our blessedly cool and rainy winter and early spring created a window of opportunity for plentiful reproduction.  Over a month ago we saw our first fledgelings, almost as big as their parents who they chased down and begged for food by trembling their able wings accompanied by nagging cheeps.  Yesterday I was treated to a display of dove love, a mating session in the mesquite outside my kitchen window.  As soon as the brief tryst was over one of the fledglings from the first clutch flew in to join mom, just in case she had something to feed him.  

We are habitat gardeners, but I'll admit to trying to dissuade the doves from nesting in other than natural spots -- in other words, I'd far prefer they use a tree or cactus than my back porch beam or the porch light.  Since the doves build their nests, a loose pile of twigs, in about seven minutes flat, you have to catch them at it.  Well, we got doved.  Yesterday when I walked out the front door to get the mail something near my head exploded.  It was a panicked momma dove vacating her nest, the one she'd built on our porch light.  I got a step-stool to check for eggs and sure enough, there were two, so mama dove gets to stay.  I'll admit it's a sweet spot for her -- shaded and safe from predators other than the winged variety.   We'll hope for a minimum of dove drama -- no naked babies falling from the nest please -- and hope for two healthy chicks that fledge successfully.

In late June we're heading for 110 degrees.  The saguaro are almost done with their blossoms though you see a stray one here or there, and heavily into fruiting.  Green fruits the size of small pears split open, revealing their juicy crimson interiors riddled with tiny black seeds, over 2,000 of them per fruit.  At a time of the year when rain has been non-existent for months, the sweet wet fruit is irresistible to anything that can get to it.  Birds have the easiest time of this while the fruit is on the cacti, but once it falls to the ground it's appreciated by most desert critters.  Birds and other animals, having eaten the fruit, move on and eventually -- through the process of elimination -- disseminate the seeds where one or two, out of millions produced by a saguaro over its long lifetime (which can be well over 200 years), might survive to maturity. 

It's a harsh environment, and one is reminded of that constantly watching the strings of baby quail get shorter by the day.  Near the summer solstice the light is white over the parched landscape.  Plants employ all their strategies -- dropping leaves, dropping whole branches, shriveling to the point of looking as if they'd been in a wildfire -- to survive until the monsoons arrive.  These summer rains the Sonoran desert is so dependent on are born from our searing heat and tropical moisture.  We've had a little pulse of the moisture in the last couple of days, and heat we have in abundance, but not enough moisture to humidify our scorched atmosphere enough to have something left over to wring out.  This is where the praying kicks in -- praying to Mother Nature to give us what we need so badly, the healing release of a hard cooling rain, the hope for survival.