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.

Natural Rain

There’s an odd thing that happens in the desert–the landscape reacts completely differently to natural rain than to hose watering. Hose watering keeps plants alive, not much more. Leaves curl on the trees, the fruit trees develop a yellow tinge.

Pencil cactus, showing new growth, which is orange.

Pencil cactus, showing new growth, which is orange.

But once the Monsoon starts, you can practically hear the plants sigh and relax. Maybe even grow.

The Ocotillo, bare since early May, suddenly leafs out again. Watering can’t make that happen. The fig leaves uncurl. The pencil cactus pulls itself upright and looks full.

It’s magical. Surprising. It’s not the amount of rain, a hose can provide that. I don’t know what it is–the different quality of rain water, the fact it falls from the sky–I don’t know.

Looking for metaphors, the rain reminds me that we all need our own kind of nurturing. What works for one person doesn’t for the other. The teacher who inspires one person, doesn’t work for another. The parents that help one child thrive, suffocate another’s spirit.

Walking rainstorm in the desert. Photo: Erin and Lance Willett Flickr/Creative Commons License

Walking rainstorm in the desert. Photo: Erin and Lance Willett Flickr/Creative Commons License

We all need to find our natural rain. We need to find the refreshing, nurturing environment that helps us thrive. Don’t be satisfied with the hose water that keeps you alive. Look for the rain that helps you thrive.

—Quinn McDonald didn’t thrive in the 46F-degree rain in Northern Wisconsin, but she loves it when the desert smells like rain.

Desert Rain

It’s been about a week, and my life has changed enormously. Yesterday, I was driving down the street, sipping from a can of coconut water. It’s a wonderful drink, made from green coconut slivers and the water a green coconut holds. It’s not the caloric coconut milk, it’s the stuff you hear sloshing inside a coconut when you shake it. When the coconut is still in a husk. I’ve never drunk it before, and it’s wonderful. Slightly sweet and very mild.

Tucson skylineThen the sky turned dark, there was thunder, lightning and. . .rain. Like a shower, but for a very short time. The air smelled wonderful, of wet sand and ozone. Another few drizzles, and it was over. Enough for desert plants to store up some water. Enough for desert rats to drink up.

A mile later, my car was covered with dust puddles. Before the rain evaporated completely, dust had settled in the water, and the water evaporated. Leaving a speckled car. Couldn’t resist taking a picture, which reminded me strongly of East Coast water in the first hard freeze. What looks like chunks of ice to the East Coast transplant looks like dust to the West Coast native.roof rain

Life is good here. I’m starting to breathe more and worry less. Life is a bit slower here, and when you turn on your turn signal, people let you move over in the lane. Yes, life is good here.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach, who will shortly start up her art again. (c) 2007. All rights reserved.