Snow, Spring, Surprise

On December nights, I walked with Buddy along the ditches.  The skies were usually clear, and December’s waxing moon, cutting its highest annual arc in the sky and all but unchallenged by artificial light, bathed the Valley in a brilliance that revealed the very face of the night. 

One morning several days before Christmas, it began to lightly rain.  Soon the rain was accompanied by our neighborhood’s first snowflakes.  Buddy, perhaps new to the phenomenon, snapped at the wet flakes as they lazily approached his nose.  The snow briefly accumulated on our lawn before disappearing into the thirsty earth. 

When the storm clouds finally lifted, they revealed snow that had accumulated on the higher elevations of the Franklin Mountains, where it would linger for days.  A mere 5,100 feet in maximum elevation in the New Mexico portion of the range, a blistering anvil to the daily hammer of sunlight throughout the long summer, the Franklins now had an almost Alpan grandeur, appeared far loftier than they really were, and the sight gave me a twinge of nostalgia for the Rockies far to the north. 

Early Christmas morning, while Linda and my in-laws, visiting from Denver, slept, Buddy and I drove in another snowfall out to Lanark, another vanished settlement along the Southern Pacific tracks in the desert southwest of Anthony.  There, Buddy flushed out rabbits while I investigated a melancholy string of snow-mantled boxcars on a siding.

By the first week of February, winter was effectively over in the Mesilla Valley.  The winds increased in frequency and velocity.  Dust storms fed by leagues of undeveloped desert and acres of unplanted fields were miles wide and several thousand feet high.  In the fury, the yucca quivered, sheet metal roofs clattered, and road signs gyrated hysterically. 

Yet as in Albuquerque, I loved the spring winds: the new year eagerly emerging from hibernation; the deep, robust respirations of a warming, vibrant planet; the howling messages from the most distant places. 

By the third week of February water began filling a number of ditches, and disc harrows again combed the fields. 

The winds continued in March, washing over our house and property like ocean waves.  Columns of pungent smoke rose around the valley: weeds being eradicated from ditches with agriculture’s version of “prescribed burns.”  Out on the desert, the snakeweed greened, the mesquite leafed.  Despite my protests, Buddy regularly nibbled on the manure recently spread on the field behind our house. 

Then: disappointment and anger.  State funding for Linda’s HIV/AIDS clinic suddenly and inexplicably dried up, and the clinic was forced to close.  I was furious with the government in Santa Fe.  I’d read and heard rumors about the system’s ineptitude and corruption; this circumstance seemed to confirm one or the other or both.  Fortunately, medicine was in demand virtually everywhere, and Linda soon found work once again practicing internal medicine at a Las Cruces clinic.