Adventures from Back of Beyond

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Desert Rain...

...has to be one of life's sweetest experiences. Simple, free, and exquisitely sweet.

You people from wet climates like the Pacific Northwest probably wouldn't understand. You're sick of month after month of grey, gloomy, grim drizzle. But here, in the desert Southwest...

...well let's just say that until today we hadn't had any rain for over two months. The ground was absolutely bone dry. The air like an oven, humidity in the single digits for weeks on end.

Yet somehow plant life is diverse and thriving, unbelievably, without a drop of water in weeks. These plants -- beautiful wildflowers in bloom all over the place, like blackfoot daisies, shrubs like mesquites and catclaw, and of course cactus with their huge short lived blossoms -- are so tough they can handle it. Not just survive, but thrive.

So today, when a fortuitous cutoff low formed over Arizona that drew in subtropical moisture -- not our monsoons, which won't start for another two months -- this low destabilized the air and hellacious thunderstorms were ignited. We were pounded by hard fast rain, big huge drops that splattered loudly on the windows and roof, with winds, lightning and booming thunder. Just like a monsoon, except it came from the west.

My guage showed .17 inches, plenty enough to not only wet the ground but to let the plants breathe. That's what happens here to these tough plants. We go for weeks on end without a drop, with single digit humidities, and with daily nonstop winds that feel like a hair dryer, and these plants cope, partially, by closing off their pores - their stomata - to control evaporation.

So when we get enough moisture, when the humidity rises enough, they open up and breathe. All of a sudden they let go, let it out -- pure, sweet oxygen. During the storm, that heady perfume mixes with ozone from lightning to create that exquisite inimitable fragrance that only the desert after a rain can produce.

If you've ever experienced it, you know what I mean. Truly one of life's greatest pleasures.