On the desert side of the highway, dust devils spun through the four-winged salt bush and cholla—spun, plumed, disintegrated. On the valley side, where the Rio Grande flows (if water that is half mud can be said to flow), alfalfa fields pinned the soil down, and the dust devils left it alone. Other patches of green showed—family farms, elm trees alive with insignificant blooms, a faint haze at the tips of the cottonwoods.
My parents just visited for a few days, and we took a drive south of town, where the New Mexican spring with its stark contrasts lay before us, spread out from one horizon to the other. The desert side of it is suspicious of the calendar and has no intention of greening up (as we think of it, without irony) until there is no possible way, no-how, not at all, nary a chance, that there might be a frost. As far as the desert plants are concerned, that will be sometime in May. Perhaps. (It's usually in mid-April, but why should they have faith in "usually?") By then, we may also have had some rain—not much, but some—and the salt bush, big sage, and chamisa are happy to bide their time on that off-chance. They bank most of their energy until midsummer, when the monsoon rains arrive.
And the wind blows. Short-lived whirlwinds, where cold and warm air meet for a few dizzy moments; gusts that ricochet off the cars on the road and make drivers fight their steering wheels; warm breezes that lure you outside; sudden chilly ones that send you back in again; gentle currents that carry the fragrance of sand cherry blossoms on their backs.
Spring and wind are almost synonymous here, both of them in constant—and not always forward—motion. The pace of action has been stunning this week, when the temperatures have been in the 70's F every day. Every time I've stepped into the garden some new change has presented itself: a new tulip in bloom, another sprinkling of ipheion; the tarragon and walking onions suddenly ready for a generous harvest; leaves popping out all along the Lady Banks rose; seedlings growing their first true leaves and then some. Town is a mass of ornamental plum and pear trees in bloom, with the occasional forsythia bush on fire in the sunshine. Songbirds dart busily in and out of juniper trees. All the season's potential energy has turned kinetic—we've crested the hill and begun to rush forward into spring.
I am telling myself all this because, if the last few years are anything to go by, at some point in April we will have a good ten days of cold, gray, dreary weather. (New Mexico dreary, that is: sunglasses may not be appropriate at all times.) It might even rain. In the past, this cold spell has arrived after I've put all the warm clothes away for the season and have stocked the refrigerator with cool, refreshing salads. It has been a grumpy time, because I have forgotten that spring is a verb. I'm trying to remember this year, to let the wind caution me to be a suspicious desert plant.
But oh, how hard it is to stay suspicious when we're on the valley side of springtime, and we transplants are reveling in the sunshine...