Desert Spring



The Wildflower or Tree moon was full last week and it is well named as either. This is the most astonishing month beginning with the promise of wildflowers and ending in splendor with all my fruit trees in bloom. I have pearl white, pale pink, and magenta flowers blooming, some with bouquets of pale pink buds not yet ready to open. One of my favorite crabapple trees is the flowering crab because she has such beautiful double blushing pink flowers and an intoxicating scent. I am always glad that she blooms last. When I walk around my yard I simply cannot imagine being anywhere else during this magical month. I was talking to my neighbor Jean today and we were both exclaiming how magnificent our blossoming fruit trees are and how much we both love them and this time of year.


The hum of bees delights me with bumblebees, small native varieties, and honey bees, all working the flowers. Just outside my porch window/door – the whole side of the porch opens into my east garden – the hummingbirds are sipping sweet nectar from the heart shaped blossoms of the bleeding hearts that are almost pressing against the double door on both sides. I feel like I am sitting in my own garden! Tall stately clumps of Solomon’s seal bow gracefully, with their lime tipped creamy white bells. The delicate blue phlox is spreading around in front of the Solomon’s seal creating a lovely contrast in shape and color… I have violets everywhere! This year the deep blue ajuga seem somewhat faded the only possible hint of the extreme dryness of this season. Celadine, a wild member of the poppy family, opens her delicate buttery yellow flowers just beyond the bleeding hearts and also grows in profusion around the edge of my rock garden. Hot pink ground phlox creeps closer to the deep purple columbine spires inside that same garden. Just this morning I discovered two tiny 2 inch blue iris with pale yellow throats that had just opened. I was absurdly delighted!

Yesterday after the grass was cut for the first time I wondered if any place could be more beautiful than my own little hollow. I wait as long as I can before mowing so that all the naturalized violets and ajuga can bloom. So many of the white violets have lavender blue throats and these appear in all hues from purple to white. Lily’s of the valley both wild and cultivated unfurl their spirals beyond the celadine; one reveals a stalk of minuscule flowers, and the other a stalk of fragrant upside down cups. Rose breasted grosbeaks, white-throated sparrows, indigo buntings, and cardinals sing love songs. With the unfurling leaves of the deciduous trees and dark green evergreens as background, this patch of earth seems truly blessed. Almost…

Every morning I also awaken to what has become a monotonous blue dome and the glare of a white sun almost at its zenith. Invariably my chimes are singing so I know wind is part of the day’s story. I anxiously look to the skies hoping for clouds, sniff the air for the fresh scent of coming rain, and every day I am disappointed. Last year’s drought killed one of my hydrangeas. Currently one of my lilac bushes has drooping leaves from lack of ground water. The peepers sang only briefly this spring and I have already had to fill the toad pond, (a sunken barrel disguised by flat stones) with water twice. The brook has narrowed its banks and its silvery ribbon is moving too slowly, its rocks gathering feathery green algae. I have decided that I will not water my flower gardens this year. Instead, if it stays this dry I will let nature wither the plants so that they will enter early dormancy. Perennials can take advantage of too much sun without water and save themselves by using this strategy.

No one talks about this drought. Is this because no one notices? Am I the only human that misses spring rain? “The weather has been gorgeous,” the weather folks drone on day after day. It is almost the end of May and the leaves of the oak and maple are stunted. Suddenly the narcissus bouquet on my table speaks as a whiff of scent drifts my way. The narcissus notice. The trees in my hollow respond by muting their lime and chartreuse. The grass is brown or absent in high open places. The mountain saplings look dusty and dull in the distance. Nature is sounding her alarm but almost no one is listening. My records indicate that in the last ten years we have had only two spring seasons with adequate rainfall (and never a year like this one).

My theory is that along with global warming massive logging in Maine is creating an ugly story. With less than sixteen percent of mature forest left in Maine we continue to log indiscriminately. We now consider a 20 year-old tree to be “mature” (up until a year or two ago it was thirty). Nut bearing trees don’t produce mast until they are at least thirty to forty years old and even then only in small amounts. We don’t allow our trees to live long enough to produce adequate food for the animals. We don’t leave “elder” seed trees alone so that they can produce the next generation of sturdy stock as well as sequester carbon. I learned the other day that my local “land trust” is once again logging the mountain I live against, this time on the other side. If the so-called land trusts support the logging of trees then what can we expect from the average person?

It is not as if we don’t know what we are doing. We do know; this is why we have so called 30 foot “wildlife buffers” which are narrow strips of land that protect the public from witnessing the ongoing rape of the forest behind that hedge of trees. This kind of deception allows people to ignore what’s happening unless you are a person like me who can’t turn away from the carnage.

As we clear more and more land the fierce spring sun heats up the bare granite stone and soil. Instead of mature trees keeping the forest moist with their protective leafed out canopies that preserve habitat for woodland creatures, new saplings spring up giving off carbon as they grow, and are cut down again before they can begin to sequester that carbon to help mitigate global warming. The mountain forests contain precious moisture which help produce clouds that eventually will bring rain to the thirsty earth and her trees and flowers. As the forest continues to disappear less rain will fall. At some point in geological time Maine will become a desert.

I am suddenly interrupted by the sound of thunder rumbling nearby and for about 10 precious minutes some light rain falls, the first in two months. Instantly the neighborhood birds begin singing. Doves are cooing. A little hummingbird lifts his beak to the sky again and again as he ruffles and preens his feathers, bathing under his very own shower head about two feet from where I am sitting on on the porch! He behaves as if he is in a state of pure joy. The blue jays squawk and the grosbeaks start singing up a storm. Alas, bird song is not enough to convince the rain gods to stay a bit longer. The ground barely gets wet. But for one moment when I opened the door the smell of spring filled the air with her scent. I couldn’t fill my lungs with enough of that sweet ionized element…

The benefits of rain beyond the obvious were first demonstrated in the 1950’s when a Sonoran desert ecologist tried to simulate the winter rains in an attempt to make the desert bloom. Lloyd Tevis used untreated groundwater from a well to encourage wildflower germination. While he was moderately successful, he needed four inches of “fake” rain to germinate some wild seeds; others did not germinate at all. He was amazed to see what happened when less than an inch of real rain fell on his germination site in January. He noted the explosion of wildflower seedlings. Real rain demonstrated an extraordinary superiority over artificial rain to bring about a high rate of germination!

Many Indigenous peoples in this country have myths that speak to the dire changes that lie ahead. In one such story the rain will not come down over the earth very often and the crops that the people raise won’t be irrigated anymore so there won’t be any seeds left to  germinate. Eventually the earth will burn up and the sea will disappear. (Arizona desert O’odham myth).

It is easy to imagine such stories as fiction unless one understands that Indigenous people have such a close relationship with the earth and her elements that they see her as “kin,” and because of that intimacy may possess knowledge that others do not. I would be remiss if I didn’t restate the obvious. In our culture scientists are now saying that it is too late to stop global warming and that all we can do is to attempt to slow this process down. So at last the Indigenous mind and the Westernized mind are agreeing on something.

Certainly the Arizona desert O’odham people have understood the importance of the relationship between rain and the germination of their seeds since they have known for millennia that seeds will not germinate properly with water from the ground and that the rains must come in order to plant their crops. To call in the rain they make a drink out of the saguaro cactus and sing a song that brings on the summer rains so that the People can plant their seeds. These are the simple words of the song:

Here I stand

The wind is coming toward me,


Here I stand

The wind is coming toward me,



I think I shall start singing that song.