Enduring Drought

Here in this high-desert valley tucked into the southern Rockies, we’re enduring a drought that rivals the Dust Bowl: since January, we’ve received just over an inch of moisture. That’s less than 30 percent of our normal precipitation–which is scanty. We ended last year with five inches, a whopping 50 percent of normal, including the previous winter, one of the wettest in recent memory. Back then, people complained endlessly about the snow; it hung around in the valley bottom instead of melting in our usual sun-drenched, warm winter afternoons.

I’d give anything for that snow now, or a good week of gentle drizzle, or even–let’s be honest–a good thirty-minute rain shower. It’s so dry that our spring creek is barely flowing and the wind blows every day, lofting clouds of tan soil into the air. It’s so dry that I long for clouds, dew, or even mist. I’m starting to feel withered.

It’s so dry, I’ve given our restored native bunchgrass yard a drink. I hooked up the soaker hoses that snake through the grassland, turned on the water, and treated my plants plants to a good spring soak. That’s all it took to wake up the bunchgrasses and wildflowers, like the sidebells penstemon above and the indian paintbrush and golden-smoke below.

They live here: they know drought. Their genes evolved in this climate, with its cycle of decades of dryer than normal years, years like this one when the landscape waits, patiently, through months and months and months of sun and wind and dust, for moisture to return. They also know the rare wet years, when a flush of green spills across the normally-tan landscape like a watercolor wash. These plants have relationships with each other and with this place. Those bonds and their millennia of experience here mean that the natives also know how to suck up moisture whenever it fall, and set to blooming and reproducing while they can.


This year, when drought grips the valley, the sight of wildflowers is like a promise that the native lives I so love will endure these difficult times. That’s a miracle I need to remember and learn to trust. But I’d still like to have some rain….

One bit of fun book news: An excerpt from Walking Nature Home was picked up by Wiki-Walk, a site devoted to celebrating all things walking. You have to love the connections that happen in the organically evolving community of the internet!

The photos are my own, copyright 2009.