For days now it has been raining here in the Sonoran Desert. There have been moments of downpour, but it has mostly been a quiet, insistent rain, steady and soft and unceasing. Flowing Wells Wash runs next to our little RV park, under the railroad tracks and down towards the road and I’ve watched as it transformed from dusty ditch to tumbling stream. Water has pooled in every dip, every dimple, reluctant to sink into the hard and unyielding earth. The mighty winds that proceeded the storm seems to have pushed back the unseasonably warm temperatures and it is cool and damp and raw on this February morning, even as the rain recedes and the sun tries to push some watery light through the mist and overcast skies.
The desert has sprung to life. The creosote has filled the air with the very essence of the smell of rain, earthy and fresh and sharp. The ocotillo has sprouted tiny leaves overnight and the palo verde has deepened its green into a rich, Dr. Suess inspired color. The birds are ecstatic and their songs drown the distant rumble of traffic and trains. They are deafening as they sing in celebration, the cactus wrens and mourning doves and white-throated swifts, the golden plovers and vermilion flycatchers and even the flighty Gila woodpeckers as they race in and out of their homes in the stalwart saguaros. The small creatures scurry, jackrabbits dart behind the jojoba and bursage and pocket mice horde the short-lived windfall in their nests beneath the prickly pear. Even the coyotes could be heard in the wee hours, yipping their gratitude for the wealth of water.
This desert landscape is a relative to the dust-bowl survivor, to the grandmother who tells stories of the Great Depression as she eyes her stock of canned goods protectively. There is no room for waste, for ingratitude here. Every drop of water is earmarked for survival. The lazy or slothful don’t last long and the desert is short on second chances.
This is the lesson, and the desert teaches it well. Opportunity doesn’t wait, doesn’t hang around hoping we will eventually recognize its proffered gifts and take advantage of them. Opportunity often arrives in the midst of high wind and a bit of chaos, blowing around the order in our lives, and presents a small door to the observant, a fleeting invitation to do the work that can mean our deepest sort of survival. It is to be celebrated with song and scurry, and allowed to bring richness to the colors in our lives. Because work doesn’t have to be drudgery- it can be a gathering, a washing clean, an elixir that nourishes our parched hearts.
It won’t take long for the last dewy remnants of this rain to soak into the soil, for the ocotillo to drop its newly sprouted leaves and the palo verde to fade back to its usual shade. We can batten down the hatches and simply hunker down through the storms of our lives- wait, protected, until the status quo returns. Or we can take the lesson the desert offers and step into the rain, listen for the quiet and insistent invitations to grow, to thrive, that are hidden in the discomfort and thrown about by the winds.
On the road west...we craned our necks for days across the prairie center, on the lookout for the first sign that mountains had returned. Hours after crossing into Colorado, we saw them peeking up along the horizon...