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The Event

By the third week of July, the ferocious heat of early summer in the Mesilla Valley eased up, and the “monsoon season” of regular rain showers, some brief and weak, others sustained and powerful, commenced, typically in the form of local, convective thunderstorms. 

The pattern was predictable.  Mornings consisted of empty skies or, at best, skies fleeced with vague, unthreatening, high-altitude cirrus clouds.  By early afternoon, cumulus congestus clouds, caused by rising columns of warm, moist air from the gulfs of Mexico and California and the eastern Pacific Ocean, began to form over the Franklins, Organs, Floridas, and Sierra Juárez.  Brilliantly white, these burgeoning clouds recalled, in their shapes and textures, heaps of mashed potatoes, ballooning mushrooms, and exploding cauliflowers.  As the afternoon progressed, the clouds climbed higher and higher, and their bellies began to darken with raindrops.  When the clouds assumed anvil-shaped heads, the tops of which reaching 10 miles above southern New Mexico, west Texas, and northern Chihuahua, they were fully-developed cumulonimbi, now prepared to release their payloads. 

Rain in the green world―that is, most of America―is often merely weather; rain, even the lightest rains, in the water-starved desert is an Event.  Iron-gray curtains of rain spread from their mountain cradles and swept slowly across the Valley floor, bearing lightning, thunder, and winds that often kicked up―with a queer juxtaposition, it always seemed to me―towering clouds of dust fleeing for their parched and diaphanous life.  As always, the initial drops to hit the ground briefly perfumed the desert air with the unique Southwestern odor of the moistened dust. 

Then, rain, miraculous rain, rain sometimes so heavy that it reduced visibility to a quarter of a mile. 

From our property, I often viewed several storms patrolling various sectors of the vast Valley at once, wreaking havoc.  If our house was in the bull’s eye of a storm approaching, say, from the south, the north wall of the house was often coated with flies presumably seeking shelter. 

Most of the storms that began in the afternoon ended by evening.  Some, however, occurred in the night, their lightning offering dazzling displays near and far, often in eerie silence.  

In a heavy storm’s wake, the Valley filled with the cloying, tarry odor of wet creosote.  At sunrise after a stormy night, Anthony often looked like a summer morning in Connecticut: fogbanks, puddles everywhere, and our lawns, such as they were, greening before our eyes. 

Monsoons coupled with flood irrigation taught us two things.  First, mosquitoes occur in the desert providing there is enough standing water, which there was with such a pairing.  Thus, come August, pleasant evenings on our patio and portal were no more as clouds of insects sought blood. 

Second, a swamp cooler provided relief only below a certain percentage of relative humidity.  One day in August, I entered the house once again anticipating relief from the heat.  I heard the comforting hum of the swamp cooler’s blower, felt the draft from the registers, yet found that the beads of sweat on my brow and under my nose were failing to disappear.  Meanwhile, my clothing was clinging stubbornly to my skin.  Linda began experiencing similar phenomena.  Our swamp cooler in Albuquerque never failed to keep us comfortable, even during central New Mexico’s monsoon season.  Something was causing this new discomfort.  We figured it was the additional humidity of the flood irrigation, so we replaced the swamp cooling with air-conditioning, absorbed the additional cost in electricity, and felt immediately better. 

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