Wednesday, April 11, 2012

2012: The year of the beige spring

By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — After a few sprinkles and windblasts, we see polka-dotted cars and trucks all over town. I used to think of dusty dots as a sure-fire sign of spring of Las Cruces, but these days I’m not so sure.
Newcomers ask me when we can count on the spring windstorms ending and I have to answer, “¿Quien Sabe?”
Though those blustery Doña Anas are most common during spring and fall transitions, the windstorms can come during any dramatic weather change.
Banks of yellow wildflowers that usually ornament vacant lots and roadsides are M.I.A. this year — I’ve seen just one scrawny stunted patch of feeble gold.
By late March, I heard reports of hummingbirds arriving in Las Cruces and rushed to set up feeders, because the flowery pickings are slim this year for early arrivals.
I’ve come to think of February as the beginning of springtime in Southern New Mexico, when willows in my ’hood start to sprout green shoots. And those fabled darling buds of May in other climes usually show up by Valentine’s Day here.
Not this year, when tender green hues were late to show, or were obscured by all the dead foliage from two years of hard and longer-than-usual freezes.
Beige is not a good color for our beloved lapis-blue skies, but it does carry out a monochromic theme for spring this year, matching our dusty brown palm fronds, faded pines and bushes, the parched beds of the Rio no-longer-so-Grande and the scorched remains of what was once Burn Lake.
Just six years ago, we thrilled to lush emerald hills from here to Santa Fe and the deserts became seas of wildflowers. (Though it was far from a pleasant season for those who lived through floods in Hatch and Ruidoso, the dark side of the greening of our territory.)
The Land of Enchantment has always had interesting and colorful weather, as long as I’ve been here. And, I suspect, all through its colorful history or dramatic earth changes. The signs are etched on the land. Volcanic scars remain from the Jemez/Valles Caldera and Picacho Peak to the City of Rocks, an ancient organic Stonehenge, formed, if we can believe the park placards, by long distance lava projectile blasts, sculpted by the sandstorms of time. Chaco, Gila and Bandelier ruins show that climate change can resculpt civilizations, too.
Once, I maintained that calling the seasons was easier in the land of my birth, Michigan. Purple and gold crocus peeking though the snow drifts, giving way, finally, to cascades of wild flowers and flurries of apple and cherry blossoms in bloom.
But this year, we were having lingering freezes and snowstorms when nary a flake was falling in my native land. A few weeks ago, when I was complaining about frenetic temperature drops from the 80s to the 40s, my Midwestern loved ones were basking in record balmy temperatures.
I grew up listening to my nature-loving elders bemoaning the pollution that had sullied the air and the waters of our spring-fed lakes and rivers and decimated the wildlife of the Wolverine State. (And we sadly noted that Michigan’s official mascot was an animal not seen there since last confirmed sightings by fur traders in the late 1700s and early 1800s.)
But in 2004, wildlife biologist Arnie Karr took a surprising photograph, about 90 miles north of Detroit, of a member of the weasel family that tops the scale at just 25 pounds but is ferocious enough to fight off bears and wolves. You guessed it: a wolverine.
Internet chatter has since reported the animal’s demise and speculated that it may have been an escaped or imported creature.
But I’d like to think my old state’s namesake is restaking a claim.
And that our own beige spring, as it fast-forwards into instant summer, will somehow have a brighter side; that we, the most dangerous and destructive creatures ever to hit this planet, will wake up to what the Hopi prophets called “Koyaanisqatsi” (life out of balance) and find equilibrium.

S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450. Follow her on Twitter @DerricksonMoore.

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