Hot Springs

It was admittedly a false hope, a burst of groundless enthusiasm that was bound to crash.

Following the unusually heavy rains during the two weeks straddling January and February, when we received approximately 10 inches–or approximately half of what we normally receive in an entire year–the ground was covered with a bright-green five o’clock shadow that I interpreted as an unmistakable prelude to spring. Even tiny wild flowers ventured out of the ground.

San Miguel’s yearly Candelaria outdoor flower show and sale in early February, an official marker of spring around here, was partially rained out this year. But the legions of plant and flower vendors from the neighboring towns arrived anyway, some of them offering even fancy tulips, the bulbs wintered in refrigerators somewhere, I imagine.

Compounding the delusion, the cacti adorned themselves with flowers in various shades of yellow, orange and red that looked like Easter bonnets. (In fact, the display came right around Easter.) Even the normally featureless and stolid organ cacti indulged in their own bit of frivolity, by growing rows of colorful flowers along the ridges of their trunks.

The three olive trees we had planted (two Spanish “Arbequina” and one a California “Mission” variety) were covered with tiny white flowers. The flowers on the Arbequinas were particularly auspicious because that variety is supposed to be an early producer. Our trees are about two or three years old, really too young to produce much, but there’s always hope.

Quick, look up the varieties in Google to see what we’re supposed to do with the tons of olives headed our way. I found out the Arbequinas are smallish olives that can be eaten but are generally used to make oil. The Missions are larger and if left on the tree long enough turn into your typical black olive.

What does one do with the imminent bounty? Soak the olives in brine, pickle them, put them in jars, or get my feet ready to stomp on them to get the oil? Or is that for grapes? Who knows?

It was all a quick, mid-spring fantasy.

Except for one afternoon when some dark clouds swirled around menacingly, we haven’t had even a faint sign of rain for about ten weeks. The promising green fuzz on the ground is gone. The cacti have lost practically all their flowers and returned to their usual somber selves. The tall candelabras of yellow flowers that had sprouted from the aloes also have withered.

On the olive trees the white flowers that were followed by what looked like tiny round fruits–and which for a moment triggered some extra-virgin olive oil visions in my head–alas are gone too, though the trees are healthy.

That acre of bright-green patch I could see amid the otherwise arid landscape visible from our terrace, and which I had guessed was alfalfa, is gone too. The small herds of livestock, now augmented with weeks-old offspring (I particularly like the baby burros whose heads seem to be two-thirds ears) are again listlessly scrounging the otherwise barren ground for any stray blade of greenery. Indeed, the only green plants left standing are mostly cacti, mesquites, huizaches and other desert survivors whose barbed-wire foliage and limbs render them inedible even by the hungriest goats.

For foreigners used to the “April showers bring May flowers” ditty, the seasons in San Miguel can be baffling. Spring begins in February, when it’s hot and it doesn’t rain. Toward the beginning of June, the hot weather eases and in July and August our brief but intense rainy season begins. Spurred by the moisture, tens of thousands of cosmos and sunflowers cover the fields during October and November. Isn’t that when the leaves are supposed to fall off as the trees go dormant?

December and January may be the only months that seem somewhat true to form. The air gets nippy and the days shorter though the weather remains sunny enough for Northern visitors to gleefully poke each other and say: This is winter? Many spoiled long-term San Miguel residents head for the beach though, to flee the unbearable “cold.”

Yet, except for brief and rare spates of unpleasant weather like we had in January, the views from our house never cease to amaze. One of the two large bedroom windows faces east and frames spectacular sunrises, and in some precious nights, an awesome moon appearing majestically from behind the mountains.

The southern scenery includes the gardens we have planted–not too colorful right now, I admit–but with their own postcard views of Biznaga’s ancient and tiny church framed by misty mountains.

Several visiting friends have told us that the northern view from the terrace, largely of a farm with an old stone house next to a small pond, with more hills in the background, almost looks like a movie set. I tell them that it is, and that to complete the effect we indeed had had a few truckloads of sheep and goats brought in to meander about and occasionally stumble over the stone fences.

A week ago I decided that instead of watching the sunrise out of the corner of one eye while lying in bed, I would grab my camera and follow my two dogs as they darted outside, in their case not exactly to watch daybreak but to attend to more pressing concerns.

Over a period of no more than an hour the scene changed hues from starry black, to grayish-blue and then increasingly vibrant shades of orange. An inaudible alarm clock rousted the birds which started chirping all at once, with a few braying donkeys joining in. The customary shades of grayish-green and burnt-brown of the cacti and the grasses, now backlit by the rising sun, seemed to be on fire.

It was a scene of a desert landscape, winding up to another hot, sunny day. It was not the start of a spring day like I’m used to, but nonetheless an awesome spectacle of natural beauty. I sat on a rock to watch it unfold and soon enough my mutts Lucy and Gladys came up from behind, panting. We all sat for a few minutes, while I took it all in with my eyes and they with their twitching noses.

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