Water in the Desert

Spring often brings rains. And rains, when you live in the desert, are most often violent. Caused by warm, wet air rising up over our cold air, the edge where they meet triggers downpours and high winds. In the summer, we wait for the Monsoons, but in the Spring, they are thunderstorms of threat and high water.


Spring storm coming.

Every arroyo has been running since it started raining this morning. These dry river beds fill up and race at amazing speed.

highflowThe same path that I walked down a week ago is now six feet under racing brown water, so heavy with silt and trash that just eight inches of it on a road will push an SUV off a two-lane highway and 200 feet down the arroyo before anyone can get out.

Octotillo buds set and bloom quickly once the plant soaks up rain.

Octotillo buds set and bloom quickly once the plant soaks up rain.

We still need the rain. It would be best if it were not three inches in 24 hours, rain that falls that hard can’t be captured successfully. The wildflowers will benefit, but sadly, the orange blossoms are getting beaten off the trees, so that crop is as good as gone with a frost.

Pencil cactus in growth phase.

Pencil cactus in growth phase.

This pencil cactus, planted so it gets hit with rain from the roof, is already starting to put out new, red growth.

Spring4And one of my blue agaves is setting pups. It will take eight years till I can use this plant for tequila, but until then, I’m enjoying that it’s going to hit a growth spurt with the rain. Hose water keeps them alive, but rain makes them grow.

Spring3One of the few shrubs with thinner, larger leaves also has large, white flowers. It’s a type of primrose, and it blooms frantically in April (usually).

Spring6The fig tree, bare three days ago, leafs out at the first rain. In a few weeks, I’ll be glad that the big leaves will shade the side of the house. Now I’m hoping the fig wasp will not drown. No fig wasp, no figs.

As with all things, the rain brings delight and pain. I’ve heard fire engines and ambulances most of the evening. Much of our neighborhood doesn’t have storm drains–we really don’t need them. In a heavy rain, the streets, particularly those with speed bumps, fill with water.

As the water washes off the roof, it carves arroyos in the xeriscaped yard. It’s a harsh climate, but still beautiful.

—Quinn McDonald is a naturalist and journal keeper.