Letter From The Desert: Mojave Summer

Before we begin, don't forget to vote Tuesday. You can find your polling place here.


Three weeks ago the daily high temperatures here edged shyly just into the triple digits, then retreated back into the 80s. For the last week each day has been warmer than the previous, and next week we're promised a string of days with highs above 96°. Summer is rising like a tide, each few days of heat a wave lapping at the shore. Each wave is higher than the next.

The dog and I have already switched over to summer walk protocol: not after 10 a.m., and with frequent shade breaks.

heart under a palm tree

Which is a good place to meet interesting people.

heart with a desert iguana

The desert iguanas are out in abundance this week, with some big ones among them – a foot or more, some of them, counting the tail. Though the "desert spring" bloom was nothing to write home about this year, it's been a really good spring for flowering shrubs, and creosote and desert willow flowers are preferred food of iguanas. I keep reading about wild iguanas happily taking flowers tossed in their direction, but there are never any handy flowers around when I remember those stories. Someday.

There are more jackrabbits in the neighborhood than I'm used to, and they seem less shy, often watching us pass from a perilously close 200 feet rather than bounding over the horizon before we get within a quarter mile. This week one of them washed his ears placidly as we gawked. Maybe it just seems like there are more because they've gotten less shy and thus I see them more often.

Mid-week, a treat: four desert bighorn sheep atop the ridge just south of our neighborhood. I never see them when I've got the good camera with me.

Earlier that day, a roadrunner had crossed the street in a bit of a hurry as my truck approached, followed closely by another... and then a third. I have been trying to remember ever seeing more than one roadrunner at a time. I have been failing.

And we found a shed gopher snake skin on Tuesday and there have been Gambel's quail in abundance and orioles and verdins and coyotes and and and. And then, the sun angles down in the direction of Los Angeles, and the breeze becomes a bit less insistently warm, and the clouds start to match the color of the feldspar in the rocks, a lurid earthy orange-pink. The coyotes sing. Bats awake, and they regard the dog and me with frank curiosity, hovering and swooping inches from our heads.

And each evening I remember that I live in a small, vaguely suburban island in a sea of wilderness, stretching hundreds of miles north and south of me. Aside from the occasional stray city, or interstate highway, or ill-considered solar power plant, or federally subsidized cattle ranch, this wild land stretches mainly undeveloped over 15 degrees of latitude, from the Vizcaino and the Sierra San Pedro Martir well south of the border to the cold saline playas of northern Nevada: 1/24 the circumference of the Earth.

The thought that it's my job to protect a good-sized chunk of that sea of wild desert makes me feel counterintuitively both very large and very small.

These days I spend an hour or more each evening feeling unabashedly grateful that I live here.


Some links for all y'all:

My friend Emily Green, who has been reporting on the Cadiz project since well before I ever heard of it, has a new blog post up in which she underscores the importance to the desert of the election day after tomorrow. It's well worth reading and very important.

Likewise for this post at On The Public Record, a water expert's blog usually focused on the ridiculously over-engineered Sacramento-San Joaquin watershed in California, in which the eponymous blogger there minces no words in conveying a personal opinion regarding the Cadiz project.

And again, don't forget to vote. Thank you.

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