Monday, December 1, 2008
Today is the first day of December. This morning I went on my traditional Monday morning hike at 6:00 a.m. with my faithful hiking partner, Caroline. We start out with headlamps these early days of winter, reaching the summit of Thunderbird Mountain in half an hour, where we briefly survey the city lights spread below us, and then turn around to hike the same route down. Half way up the five hundred foot climb, I shed my outer layer. Today it is in the low fifties at dawn. The soil is still moist from a drenching rain that blessed us last Wednesday, a germinating rain.
Many people know of the legendary spring blooms that grace the Sonoran desert some springs. But few realize that winter rains in November through January are critical to generating poppy and lupine covered slopes in March. Now is when the seeds soak up the moister and germinate. Successive light rains must happen to nurture the seedlings to maturity by late February, when, if we are so fortunate, the annual wildflower show begins. The display of desert wildflowers, in a good year, is rivaled by no other I have seen in my botanically motivated wanderings. Thus, a rain around Thanksgiving is truly something to be grateful for. You can almost hear the seeds popping.
On my windowsill, I have a miniature greenhouse with seven saguaro seedlings growing inside. Each sports two succulent leaves topped by a soft tuft of nascent spines. At the bottom of these swollen beads of life, two threadlike rootlets cling to the soil. Could I find seedlings like these beneath a palo verde along the Thunderbird trail if I crawled around on hands and knees? I've often looked, but know that the birds and mice and squirrels are gathering most of these tender morsels before they reach a month old. This realization makes the success of any saguaro or poppy even more of a miracle to me. Those that make it through the rigors of predation to be able to produce flowers and seeds of their own have somehow escaped the notice or hunger of desert creatures. And yet, the value of a seedling as food is no less important, because it provides sustenance for the rest of the desert web of life.