Sunday, April 18, 2010

Four Seasons of the High Desert

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say that this place is nice but they miss THE four seasons. This is especially true of those who are here because their job moved them here. They just aren’t paying attention. We have fours seasons. Northern elitism prevents them from seeing and embracing the four seasons of the southwestern high desert.

So what are these non-stereotypical seasons, you ask. Westerners in general tend to be of the ‘don’t tell me what to do or think’ mind set, so this disclaimer applies: these are what I see as our four seasons. They are neither generally known nor pondered. Most of us have better things to do than worry about this kind of stuff. I’m only thinking about it because this year two seasons have overlapped by a significant margin, which struck me with awe. Let me explain....

My take on the four seasons of the southwestern high desert are (in order): Wind, Hell-hot, Wet, and Beautiful. We are currently in Wind season, which normally occurs in some form between the beginning of March and the middle of May. It’s a time when the jet stream is making its annual trek across the western U.S.. Living above 5000' altitude and between low and high-pressure air masses engaged in a heroic annual struggle above you, you get wind – lots of wind. Some years it can blow for weeks. When this happens, especially when you are in week 5 or 6 of constant wind, people get really cranky. Snap-your-neck-off cranky. We tread lightly this time of year. The rattlesnakes come out of hibernation to the wind – cranky and hungry – makes this season even less attractive! Sure flowers bloom and birds sing, but the afternoon after a bud breaks it looks like it has been through a shredder. The birds don’t flit about – they hold on for dear life and only let go when they need to go in the same direction as the wind, with no hope of returning. Do not get spring fever during Wind season, even though there is a rough coincidence with official SPRING. Planting small unsuspecting living things in the ground when they cannot escape is harmful to their health. If they survive Wind season, then the next season will finish them off for sure.

Wind season is actually a good thing because it makes you embrace and welcome Hell-hot. The winds finally die down as the jet stream stabilizes and the heat cranks up. We are fortunate because our heat is not the heat of Phoenix, AZ, a lower desert enclave. We tend to be at least 20 degrees (F) cooler, which makes a huge difference. Sure, 105 degrees still feels really hot during the day, but at night the 20 degrees difference between 70 and 90 can really cool off for a pleasant night. Despite that creature comfort, there is usually no rain and things dry up. Another name for Hell-hot is "fire season". Depending on a number of factors, fire season can be ugly. Last year, we had a lovely mild fire season. In 1994, we lost 4,000 acres of forest in our valley. In 2001, we lost 38,000 acres of grassland. Most of these fires are – you guessed it – HUMAN CAUSED. Despite this knowledge, idiots still throw lit cigarettes from their car windows, as documented by the black expanses along road sides throughout the southwest. Hell-hot usually begins in early to mid-May and extends until July. Many of us think of this as the time we hold our collective breath and count the days until the next season which is heralded by start of the summer rains.

Next time: Monsoons and the rest of the year!

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