By Peter Anderson
All winter long, this lingering dissonance: I say “beautiful day,” and the blue sky mildness is real and pleasant enough, but so is the uneasy notion that our good fortune now will cost us come summer. The weather “pleasantries” we exchange carry only half of the truth. The other half, too unsettling to acknowledge in neighborly comments at the hardware store, is that we may be entering into a season of dangerous drought – one that rivals 2002 when we lost many of our cottonwoods or 2013 when the great rising plumes of smoke from the West Fork fires over by Creede and South Fork settled in here at the base of the mountain and the only sunlight we saw for weeks was filtered through an ominous orange haze.
Barring an exceptionally heavy wave of storms in the coming month or so, we are headed into that kind of drought, the kind of drought that we will feel when our bodies tell us that the world is not as it should be (or at the very least, not what we’re used to). The kind of drought that will trigger our fight or flight reactions. Fight: prune back the piñons, clean up the scrap piles, check on your insurance policy. Flight: get out of “Dodge” as soon as you can and head for water. In the summer of 2013, I remember the visceral relief of driving north out of the smoke and into the headwaters country of the Yampa River near Steamboat Springs. Finally, a free flowing river and clear, high country skies offered a reprieve from the apocalyptic haze that had settled in over the San Luis Valley.
Those of us who live in the high desert on the cusp of the truly arid Southwest feel especially vulnerable when seasons of moisture are diminished. Even moreso for those of us living in foothills surrounded by highly combustible piñon and juniper belts, which are overdue for a good burn. We are reminded that in living here, we are rolling the dice and we have been lucky for a long time. In a summer like the one that may soon be upon us, prevailing winds out of the southwest carry only worrisome news and the desiccated ghosts of our riparian zones, surrounded by parched valley grasslands, are fuses waiting to be lit.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. But it is a beautiful day.
Peter Anderson lives in Crestone, Colorado, and teaches writing at Adams State University.