Desert Springtime

Greening desert above Tucson in the valley

Fairy dusters blooming in the desert

It’s almost mid-March. We’re inside our vacation rental here in Tucson on a lovely spring afternoon, looking out through “blackout shades”, a tinted mesh that filters out the blinding brightness of the sun and much of the heat. The desert wildflowers are popping up almost fast enough to see them grow and leafless trees are greening fast. Inside, it’s a pleasant 70 degrees. It’s supposed to be 84 outside, but the direct rays feel hot enough to cook exposed flesh. We’re here to soak up the sunshine, but this afternoon there’ll be no soaking…it’s sizzle and shrivel for anyone who doesn’t seek the shade.

A week ago, we sat by this same window watching black rain clouds chase each other across the hills. They swept the desert with downpours and dumped snow on the mountaintops. We bundled up in coats over sweaters to go out between showers, walking fast to stay warm.

Such contrasts in the desert! Delicate wildflowers bloom and go to seed in a period of days, covering the sand and gravel with a haze of green. Tall saquaros grow plump with spring rains, turning themselves into reservoirs of moisture that will nourish each cactus through a long, burning summer. Shrubs and trees put out a mist of tiny leaves that camouflage protective spines. It’s beautiful. For a while, the desert seems a friendly place.

But it’s a hard place to live for people and animals. People, too, must learn to adapt. Today, we’re adapting by staying inside until late afternoon brings cooler temperatures.

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