Surprises come in two variations—positive and negative.
Like most people who care about our planet and its denizens, I worry about contagion, wars, and climate change. While I’m extremely grateful that nobody is shooting at me or making me leave my home and country, that water flows when I turn on the faucet and electricity when I flip the switch, the weather this spring, usually my favorite season, has surprised in unpleasant kinds of ways.
The most dire way is a near-complete absence of snow and/or rain. We haven’t seen any significant moisture in the last couple of months. April in Colorado Springs, which is typically our snowiest month, has been the driest since 1965, tying a low record of 1/100th of an inch of total precipitation—virtually nothing. Not only has it been skin-cracking dry, we have experienced more windy days and higher wind speeds than anyone can remember, many of them resulting in red flag warnings and two in “extreme” fire weather danger, a classification that had only been applied a handful of times in previous decades. Several fires have already wreaked havoc on the land and its inhabitants, be they human or otherwise.
This nearly-constant wind is enervating and exhausting, blowing dust, pollen, and who knows what else through the air and covering everything in a fine layer of dust, both indoors and out, desiccating skin and mucus membranes, causing a scratchy throat, burning eyes, and frequent sneezing, and making being outdoors less than enjoyable. All that during a time when all I want to do is be out in nature. I’m not comparing present-day conditions to those during the Dust Bowl, but the images of Great Plains residents hanging wet towels in front of their windows to keep the dust at bay, relayed to me by a dear friend who witnessed the event, come to me unbidden.
In view of global happenings, my complaints might sound petty and trivial, but drought and fires are no mere trifles and affect a huge swath of the country. Colorado’s most recent drought monitor from last week shows that 100 % of the state is abnormally dry, with 91% suffering from moderate and 48% from severe drought. The effects aren’t limited to Colorado. With a lower-than-average snowpack in most regions, all areas downstream from the state’s rivers will suffer the consequences, most notably those dependent on the Colorado River, as the serious conditions in Lakes Mead and Powell prove. The prevalent La Niña pattern and jet stream, held responsible for the current weather pattern, aren’t predicted to change any time soon, so the outlook doesn’t give much reason for optimism.
But no one wants or needs to be constantly reminded of doom and gloom. I try to keep things in perspective and not lose hope (I envy you eternal optimists). And I still spend as much time out-of-doors as possible, trying to exploit those hours or days when the breezes are mild. I still enjoy watching the leaves and flowers emerge, even if they do so more hesitantly and less exuberantly than during years with “normal” precipitation. I particularly want to be outside because my favorite annual event is in full swing—spring migration of the world’s avifauna.
One of the wind’s windfalls, so to speak, has been the arrival of a number of species considered rare, many of them usually occurring in the Southeast. They likely were swept here by strong southeasterly breezes, overshooting their destination. Although these windfalls are exciting for birders, they make me wonder and worry about the birds, as they might not be able to find their way to their breeding grounds to meet up with and perpetuate their kind. But while they are here, I relish their presence, quietly giving thanks. And when they move on to delight another birder’s soul, I wish them well. As I did with the four beauties who brought pleasant surprises this spring, all of them life birds for me.