Sunday, July 14, 2013

Monsoon Mirage

Weather: Humid afternoons with clouds and winds; last rain 7/13/2013; 14:19 hours of daylight today.

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid roses, bird of paradise, daylilies, silver lace vine, Russian sage, purple garden phlox, bouncing Bess, zinnias, alfalfa, brome grass.

Beyond the walls and fences: Tree of heaven, trumpet creeper, scarlet and sweet peas, whorled milkweed, buffalo gourd, purple mat flower, stickleaf, leather-leafed globe mallow, bindweed, greenleaf five-eyes, scarlet bee blossom, velvetweed, Queen Anne’s lace, goat’s beard, Hopi tea, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy aster, native Mexican hat, Santa Fé thistles; buds on gumweed.

In my yard, looking east: Baby’s breath, coral bells, pink evening primrose, pink salvia, winecup mallow, sidalcea.

Looking south: Rugosa, floribunda and miniature roses.

Looking west: Lilies, Johnson Blue geranium, catmints, sea lavender, ladybells, white mullein, white spurge, bachelor buttons.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, coral beardtongue, chocolate flowers, anthemis, yellow yarrow.

In the open, along the drive: Dutch clover, hollyhock, Shirley and California poppies, larkspur, white yarrow, blanket flower, black-eyed Susan, lance-leaf and prairie coreopsis, yellow, red and mixed Mexican hats.

Bedding plants: Wax begonias, pansies, snapdragons, French marigolds, gazanias; sweet alyssum and impatiens coming back into bloom.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia.

Animal sightings: Goldfinches, chickadees, hummingbird, snake, geckos, bumble and small bees, hornets, large and small black ants; ground squirrel by near arroyo.

Weekly update: Many things are not what they seem. It’s been clouding up every day since the middle of June. The air get humid. Some days some rain falls for a few minutes.

In the flower beds that get watered every day, the seeds that need warm moisture are germinating. The plants that thrive in that environment are growing. The areas I weeded a few weeks ago are filled with columbine. The yellow cosmos are overtopping the French marigolds. The larkspur are coming up between the bachelor buttons.

Then I look out to the road. Nothing has changed.

Only the edge is green where the golden hairy asters and gumweed have been growing all summer. Russian thistles and pigweed are sprouting and dying. The water isn’t spreading more than a foot from the pavement. The winterfat is holding up with water it's leaching from the fruit trees on the other side of the fence.

I took my houseplant water meter out again. Its gauge reads from 1 (dry) to 8 (wet). The area that had about a 5 reading at 3" down on July 6 was half that two days later. The reading was 2.5 at 2.5". The probe would still go down three inches, but there was no water.

This past Friday, July 12, the meter read 1.25 at 1".

Every day, we’ve had clouds. Some days we’ve had rain. And, the ground is getting drier.

I took the meter with me when I walked out on the prairie Thursday. In the steppe area that’s closest to my driest land in vegetation, the probe just registered the presence of water at 2". Nothing has come up, and the winterfat is suffering.

A bit downhill, where water comes across from a small valley on the other side of the road, the meter read 1.5 at 2". Two of the cholla have greened a little, but there were no signs of revival yet in the needle grass.

Farther down the slope, the prickly pear were greener, and some bits of grass were up. The probe measured 5 at 3.5".

On the other side of the road, on the upside of the hill, the needle grass was greening at the base. Some new sprouts were breaking through. The meter read 2 at 2.25".


I’m thoroughly puzzled. I look at the weather bureau’s satellite images of the country. The ones enhanced to emphasize water vapor usually show this part of the state a deep chocolate brown. Sometimes it’s in a trough between two banks of white moisture, sometimes it’s a bowl.

That doesn’t change when the clouds form in the afternoon. I look at the weather service’s radar images that indicate water moving in the vaporless atmosphere.

The only thing I can figure is most of our rain is our previous rain recycled. We got some real water in early June and again around the Fourth. Since, the sun has been sucking the water it dropped into the ground and taking it with the winds. When conditions change in the afternoon, it’s forced to drop some. But like a weary peasant, the next day, it picks it up again, and moves more away, leaving us a little poorer.

We have all the unpleasantness of a humid climate and none of the benefits.

The plants that are doing well nearer the arroyo are ones that have taken hold in places where water happens to run, especially the slopes that carry water downward.

Santa Fé thistles are one of the few plants that are blooming. They live between some eroded gullies on the slope to the arroyo. The water probe registered 2 at 3.5". It went down 5.5" through gravel above the plants.

Farther down the same gully, a grass has begun to revive at the base. The meter reading just registers water at 4". The thistles are growing in the moister area. This grass only grows here and a few other places upstream near the base of the slope.

The slim-leaved lima beans growing on the other side of the arroyo in the shade of a tamarix have found an even better place. The probe penetrates 5", with the water concentrated around 2".

For the plants that have found niches and for the pampered ones in gardens, the daily clouds and humidity are a boon. Enough rain as fallen in the mountains to reopen the fire-threatened forests. Here in the valley wild lands, there’s still a drought.

Notes: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. National Weather Service. 
Water vapor image is at 
Local radar image is at

1. The far arroyo taken about 7:45 pm on 5 July 2012 from inside my car. The rain had started around 6:15 pm with thunder and stopped sometime after 7:15 pm.

2. Larkspur seedlings coming up between bachelor buttons which have been up for a month, 13 July 2013.

3. Road outside my neighbor’s fence, 13 July 2012. Gumweed is growing along the road on his side of the road. Golden hair asters are the green on the near side.

4. Winterfat growing on the downhill side of the ranch road at the upland end, 11 July 2013.

5. Cholla cactus growing amid unrevived needle grass downhill from the winterfat of #4, 11 July 2013.

6. Prickly pear cactus in unrevived needle grass flat land, downhill from the cholla of #5, 11 July 2013. The shrub is a four-winged saltbush. The brown are Russian thistles that have blown in.

7. Needle grass reviving on hill on other side of road from cholla in #5, 11 July 2013.

8. Santa Fé thistles growing in an eroded gully dropping to the arroyo, 11 July 2013. The right bank is generally on the east side of the north running arroyo.

9. Grasses reviving downhill from the Santa Fé thistles in #8, 11 July 2013.

10. Slim-leafed lima beans growing on the slop on the left bank, 11 July 2013. The area stays shadowed and retains its snow longer than any other area in or near the arroyo.

11. Close up of slim-leaf lima bean leaves, 11 July 2013.

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