July 24 and I’m drinking hot chocolate, sitting on the porch of this cabin in the desert in jeans and my son Tyler’s overlarge flannel shirt, deciding to change Chaco river sandals for wool-lined slippers. The wind-downed thermometer reads seventy degrees straight up, and I’m cold.
Clouds cover the entire sky, though the mist has risen and landforms rimming the valley have returned—the great Dakota Sandstone abutments to the northeast and rimrocks to the southeast, the Glades stretching across the south, La Sal Mountains to the west, over there in Utah.
From the spread of features marking the valley, my vision narrows to search the opposite canyon wall for the ground squirrel emitting its high-pitched warning. Birds swoop and soar. I wish I knew them all by sight and song. Small, white-rumped and -winged. An orange hummingbird resting on a piñon branch in front of me, less than two inches tall, leaving before my eyes refocus. A jay that bears the color of the absent piñon jays but is not—blue jay. No swallows this morning. The other evening two nighthawks dive-bombed bugs with the swallows for a long time, their angular wings making sharp drops and turns.
Though some human sky traffic has returned, but for birdsong it’s mostly quiet out here, just the hum of silence and occasionally the refrigerator. I relish whatever quiet-woman moments I can gather up inside me—fortitude, for later.
The other morning it was so quiet I could hear the big bear drinking down below in the creekbed, lapping at a puddle like a dog. Peeking over the rim, I saw his muzzle and tongue and the ripples in the water they made.
Soft raindrops touch juniper, greasewood, fourwing saltbush, bottlebrush squirreltail. Indian ricegrass that pushed through the dry spring and still has green shoots coming. The galleta, taller than yesterday—we got fifteen hundredths of an inch overnight in a slow, steady, female rain, so powerful in its light touch, like the kiss of a bear’s lips on the face of a desert pool.
I listen for my son Ken’s truck. He and Tyler should be coming soon with a flatbed trailer to haul Ken’s bulldozer to our cow camp on the mountain. Another kind of strength: male.
Piñon jays! I have not heard their raucous cries for a dry month’s worth of days and feared they had moved on. But like the rain they are back, at least right here, right now.
Desperately we need more rain and with open arms and naked skin I will welcome the monsoons—thunder and flashes of lightning and flood, male rain returning life to the creek like piñon jays crying the sky alive. The way bears and my boys give life to this heart.
I don’t see the flock of piñon jays but follow it with my ears, and here comes a truck—a mile away, closer—I know the turns, the gaps in the piñon and juniper woodland where sound grows, the quieting down where the dirt road rounds behind the hill. Like the crunch in the three-leaved sumac that marks the bear feeding, or the bawl in the aspens up high that marks the calf for its mother, and for me on my mare, Savanna, as we make a final sweep of the fifteen-hundred-acre pasture of trees. But that was yesterday. And tomorrow. Now it’s birdcalls and young men that mark the morning.