Sunday, February 24, 2013

Dry Winter

Weather: Less than a quarter inch of snow; last snow 2/22/13; 11:38 hours of daylight today.

What’s green: Few rose stems; juniper, pine, and other evergreens; yucca, grape hyacinth, garlic, gypsum phacelia leaves.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot, sandbar willow branches; Madonna lily leaves.

What’s grey or blue: Winterfat leaves.

What’s yellow: Globe and weeping willow branches.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunia.

Animal sightings: There’s apparently one (or maybe more) flock of birds wintering along the river. Whenever it snows, they show up in my yard. The first time I could see they were robins. This Thursday, I couldn’t see them as well.

Weekly update:  Three storm alerts ago, I was standing in line in the post office where I overheard the following conversation:

Post master: How you doing?
Small older lady: I’m waiting for the snow.

The post master was taken aback. It was Thursday. Rain was forecast for the weekend. No snow, unless you lived at very high elevations.

At the time, I wondered how she had gotten so confused.  What television station or neighbor had garbled the forecast so badly?

But, if I were absolutely honest, I would admit I have done nothing since the first of the year but wait for the snow. Every time a storm is forecast, I turn to the NOAA website each time it clouds over here to watch the Southern Rockies radar projection of cloud movement. And every time, just as the clouds near the southeast corner of Rio Arriba county, they vaporize.

I looked with envy. One time it snowed all day in Santa Fé. Other times, roads were bad around Los Alamos. All we’ve had since New Year’s hasn’t amounted to half an inch. I felt like Job imploring, why not here Lord?

A few days before the overheard conversation, when the rain was first forecast, I walked to the far arroyo to see how much snow had survived. The edges of the arroyo water paths were sharply cut, I suppose by water flowing through the arroyo. The embedded gravels were exposed.

I walked out again just after the rain stopped. The edges had been eroded into a miniature range of mountains by the water. The gravel had been washed onto the arroyo bottom. Truck tracks indicated how much the level has changed since the ranch owners last graded their road.

I went out yesterday after our flurries on Friday. The flood plain, which had been wet after the rain, was beach sand with wind patterns carved in the surface.

The water edge before the road crossing was reduced to a smooth slope.

Earlier this week, I drove up beyond Chimayó to see the levels in Santa Cruz lake, the reservoir that will feed irrigation for the valley this spring and summer. I wanted to know if I was imagining bad conditions or if they were widespread.

The water level wasn’t as low as I’d expected: less than two feet lower at the dam edge than last year.

Things looked much worse in the area where fishermen launch their boats. Sandbar willow was colonizing the shore.

Last year, no unplanned vegetation broke through the water’s surface. I don’t know if the willows come back every summer and the National Park’s Service keeps them cut down, or if they were new.

The one thing the trip confirmed. It’s colder this year. Last year I went up February 14; this year on the 21st. Last year, the lake was blue and some snow remained in the shadows of the far hills. This year, ice was scattered on the surface.

As I said it snowed parts of Thursday and Friday. The east facing Jémez were white, but yesterday the snow was already disappearing. It doesn’t look like enough new moisture to help the areas destroyed by the Las Conchas fire of 2011.

Ridges on the west facing Sangre de Cristo were white, whiter than they’ve been this year. They suddenly loomed like clouds when I was walking out the of the arroyo yesterday and reached a level where they could be seen in a break in the badlands.

Maybe some snow melt will reach the lake, and eventually the valley.

When I first heard that woman, I wondered about a life that was reduced to fretting about a forecast storm for three days of excitement. But now I realize, it’s a much more existential situation here in the valley. Waiting for the snow is the same as waiting for Godot.

1. Santa Cruz lake, 21 February 2013; sandbar willow and dead weeds exposed; ice in background on lake.

2. Flock of birds temporarily escaping the river banks, 21 February 2013.

3. Water path edge carved in far arroyo bottom, 21 January 2013. Edge straight, embedded gravels exposed. Elevation changed since they last graded the ranch road.

4. Water path edge after rain, 27 January 2013. Edge eroded, gravel washed into the arroyo floor.

5. Flood plain, 23 February 2013. This is the same section shown in the posting for February 3.

6. Water path this week, 23 February 2013. Edge sanded smooth.

7. Santa Cruz lake at dam edge, 21 February 2013. Some ice in water.

8. Santa Cruz lake at dame edge, 14 February 2012. Some snow visible in far slope.

9. Santa Cruz lake near boat landing, 21 February 2013.

10. Santa Cruz lake near boat landing, 14 February 2012.

11. Jémez from the ranch road, 23 February 2013.

12. Sangre de Cristo from the ranch road, 23 February 2013.

13. Rio Quemado, one river that enters Santa Cruz lake through the damned canyon, 21 February 2012 when snow and water were plentiful.

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