Mother Nature cuts through the gloom of current events

Stew checked our rooftop weather station a couple of days ago and found that, so far this year, we’ve had 0.07 inches of rain. That’s damn close to zero. 

He also found that relative humidity during the past week has been in the low double digits, sometimes dipping down into the single digits, particularly inside our house. That’s bone-dry. 

Moreover, if previous weather patterns in San Miguel hold true, we should not expect get any measurable precipitation until mid-June at the earliest. 

So if you crave constantly cloudless skies, blazing sun and warm temperatures—albeit with occasional  afternoon wind bursts that kick up dust devils and propel brush fires—this is your place to be. 

But for impatient gardeners, this is the season of the heebie-jeebies, an interminable intermission before a second act they can’t wait for. 

Out the windows of our house I keep looking for the sight of gray, gravid rain clouds that will kick off the “real” spring season, but instead I see dried-up fields, except for isolated exclamation points of bright flowers and a few trees that have started to leaf out. 

This year, the waiting has been especially frustrating, coming on top of the horrible news from Ukraine and reports of a possible new variant of the Covid virus, along with renewed talk about masks, a fourth vaccination and lockdowns—just about when the pandemic seemed to be coming to an end. 

In fact, these days I try to wean myself from the constant barrage of bad news but without becoming a recluse.

Look closely for the purple flowers
 of my Texas mountain laurel.

Then last week San Miguel’s weird climate cycles propped up my sagging spirits. You see, even though it won’t rain here for at least two more months, if you look close enough, nature is already signaling that there are better days to come. 

A Texas mountain laurel tree that I planted 18 months ago suddenly is putting out its delicate purple flowers. Some succulents, in pots or out in the yard, sport improbably bright flowers. The 20-foot alder tree by the bathroom window has shaken off its winter torpor and is covered with delicate bright-green leaves. 

And all of this without the help of a drop of rain, never mind “April showers.” 

During the two and a half years of the pandemic, vendors of seeds and plants have reported dramatic increases sales that have to be attributable, at least partly, to bored people looking for something to do while cooped up in their homes. 

It’s party time in my greenhouse.

According to the 2020 book, “The Well Gardened Mind: The Restorative Power of Nature,” gardening indeed can soothe our troubled minds, even those of people in prisons.  

“Gardening grounds us and gives us something to look forward to,” according to the author, English psychiatrist Sue Stuart-Smith in an interview with The New York Times. “In times of crisis, these simple qualities can offer a psychological lifeline.” 

The very act of gardening in fact offers hope and optimism. 

A month ago, almost instinctively, and without waiting for our April showers to arrive at the end of June, I reactivated my mini greenhouse, which had lain pretty much barren since last year and turned into a messy, glorified tool shed.

Now it’s filled with trays with rows of small plastic yogurt containers that I’d been saving for months, filled with damp soil and fragile plantlets. When I mist the trays in the morning, just the discovery of a new tiny green sprout is cause for a small mental yelp of joy.

Beauty on the terrace.

In a plot covered with plastic netting at one corner of the ranch, small sprigs of sweet corn, squash and beans also are poking out of the ground, with the help of some irrigation. Plus, peas, lots of them. You can never have too many fresh peas, or tomatoes. 

Meanwhile, Stew is brushing up on his beekeeping skills through an online course that I hope will bring back to life our four beehives now dormant. 

I’ve gone through this accelerated spring routine enough times to be optimistic but not naïve. There will be pests to deal with—especially the yearly plague of grasshoppers—gardening adventures that just don’t pan out, or insufficient rain like we experienced in 2019 and 2020.  

Flowering aloe.

But as if to counter these sober reminders there are small visions and oohs and aahs, like the enormous flowers I expect in late summer, from dahlias resurrecting from tubers we saved last year. Plus mail-order dahlias that are supposedly in the mail, along with fancy lilies I can’t wait to put in the ground. 

I still pray every morning for the beleaguered people of Ukraine, and hope that new Covid restrictions don’t upend the lives of any more people. Meanwhile, small but reassuring discoveries in the garden surely help me along. 


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