June is the cruelest month in New Mexico.
It’s supposed to hit 100 degrees today at 6,500 feet in the Sandia foothills. Humidity is soaring at 7 percent. Wildfires are burning in the Gila, the Pecos and father north, near El Rito, obscuring my visions of cool, clear streams running fast in the mountains. Arizona is sending up smoke, too. Cowboy is giving me dirty looks.
The water pundits are mournful choruses on the banks of the low-flowing Colorado and Rio Grande. They know that aridification, diminishing snowpacks and the oversize demands of irrigation are the elephants in the room. I am smaller-minded, worrying more about groundwater in my neck of the woods, community wells, ephemeral streams, springs and recharge. Gray water isn’t making a dent in my barely landscaped courtyard. Leaves are curling on the Mongolian tree, the desert olive, the Apache plume and the cherry sage whose flowers used to draw the hummingbirds.
It seems worse this year, too. There was no carpet of yellow Fendler bladderpods in April. If you kick at a clump of old grass, it turns to dust. I haven’t seen bugs on the piñons yet but I fear they are coming.
I tell myself to be patient about water use in my semi-rural corner of Sandoval County. After all, Albuquerque residential use has trended downward over the years, although it jumped back last year, maybe because of COVID and people working from home. But I have been wrestling for months whether to buy an electric car. I have thought of, but not tried out, the excuse that I need to support New Mexico public schools by driving my old carbon-fueled truck.
I would tell T.S. Eliot that New Mexico is not a waste land. I’m still here, for one, convinced it is magical. Many have stayed for thousands of years longer than I, through dry times and disease and out-of-state invaders. But I am worried. I read that it is all gradual slide of global warming, climate change. Awkward as it is, the big word aridification is the one that hits home most with me. I am telling myself to get used to it.
I tell newcomers about June. I tell them it is the hottest month, even though the data-keepers say July. Increasingly I tell the newcomers about wildfires and smoke. I tell them the Las Conchas fire in the Jemez in 2011 burned an acre a second. I have seen two nearby streams dry in the 30 years I have been in this northeast Placitas area home. Four dogs and drought have turned my walled-in yard into a dust bowl. I tell Cowboy I can’t flip the switch, although I converted from swamp cooler to air conditioning for his predecessor, Cooper.
I tell the newcomers that the weather service says our rainy season begins June 15, even though no one promises how much rain actually will come. The average Placitas rainfall is supposed to be 13 inches a year, compared to 38 nationally. I neglect to tell people how fast it races past my house to the Rio Grande.
The snowpack in the Sandias just to the south of me has been gone at least a month. I vaguely recall hearing of a study that said it takes 50 years for snow moisture at the top of the mountain to recharge the great river.
I am not even a drop in the bucket when it comes to climate change. I feel I’ve got to do my part but I remember the panic set off in 1968 by Paul Erlich’s book The Population Bomb and then reading last month this in the New York Times: ‘Long Slide Looms for World Population, With Sweeping Ramifications.” Erlich has defended his book, despite population swings, saying it warned of many problems the world would come to face because of more humans on the planet.
I believe what I read about human-caused climate change. I know the advocates say that radical and global repairs should be undertaken now. I’m all for it but admit that I reserve a little space for the complexity of the universe, the immensity of time and the possible limits of human comprehension. I know it’s getting drier. The fact is I haven’t put on my big winter coat in years. But I’m still hoping for a rainy season and what next winter might bring.