Summer monsoons come early–and often

We’ve finally dried out after the rainiest night I’ve ever spent in a tent. (At least since I was in grade school more decades ago than I care to count, and my family took our very first backpacking trip in the Pecos Wilderness in July. That trip, the skies opened up and it poured all night long, flooding our tent and sending us squelching down the muddy trail in retreat as soon as it was light enough to hike the next dawn.)


When Richard and I set out on Tuesday afternoon, headed for Ghost Ranch, just above Abiquiu in the northern New Mexico landscape that Georgia O’Keeffe made famous in her paintings, the skies were partly cloudy, and we were prepared for showers. We drove into a stiff southwesterly wind the entire hundred-mile-length of the San Luis Valley, and saw more green grass there than we have there in a long time, plus more Rocky Mountain irises blooming in masses of palest purple in the wet meadows, meadows which really are wet right now. That high-desert valley boasts water in abundance this month, silvery surfaces reflecting the sky from puddles and ponds and ephemeral wetlands that I know will dry out once the rains quit.

All that lovely green and water in what is usually dusty-dry shrub desert is a gift of the unseasonable rains that began in late May. After 15 months of increasing drought, the summer rains–which we jokingly call “monsoons” because they bring a verdance we don’t usually enjoy in this semi-arid region–have come early. Still, I wasn’t worried about rain when we left on this trip. It’s usually dry in June in New Mexico, and the weather forecast predicted a mere 40 percent chance of showers. No big deal, I thought.

We reached Ghost Ranch in time to catch dinner at the dining hall, register, pick a site in the campground with its stunted juniper and pinon pines in the shadow of those deep red, ivory, and purple cliffs that O’Keeffe pictured so vividly, and pitch our tent. I was inside the tent zipping our sleeping bags together when the rain began to fall.

We spent a lovely evening snug in the tent listening to pattering on the rain fly. The storm cleared just in time for the last bit of sun to color the clouds, and for the robins, kingbirds, towhees, swallows, and western bluebirds to get in one final chorus before night fell. We slipped off to sleep to the sounds of other campers settling in for the night too.

And woke to rain. First just a gentle trickle, then a steady fall. All
night long. By morning, the view from our tent of O’Keeffe’s towering
technicolor cliffs looked like this:


And the rain continued. It rained as I led a workshop on walking nature back into your daily spiritual practice. It rained as my band of hardy workshop participants braved the mud of Ghost Ranch’s usually dusty red clay paths. It rained as we took breaks. It rained as we talked about the species we know from our home landscapes, the places that speak to us, and how to honor them in our every day routines. It rained right up until the the very last hour of the workshop. Then the rain quit, the clouds cleared, and the landscape showed off its vivid colors in spring green foliage and red cliffs and bluebird-blue skies. The blue grosbeaks sang along the arroyo, the prickly pear cactus blossoms opened to welcome bees, the harvester ants emerged to rebuild their eroded mounds, and the arroyo ran a slender ribbon of clear water. 


The sun stayed out for more than an hour, just long enough for me to lead a quick nature walk while Richard packed up our sodden camp. As we drove away, the black clouds were massing again over Chimney Rock, just above Ghost Ranch. I snapped this shot as we headed down the road, looking for sunshine….


After more than a year of drought, it’s a pleasure to feel the rain on my face and see the landscape turn green again. But tonight, I’m just glad to be dry and warm!