Not All of N.M. Burning
Or so said the headline of a recent article in the Albuquerque Journal. The governor had issued a message encouraging tourists to visit, pointing out that the wildfires raging in the southern part of the state really cover only a small part of the whole, and that most places are still open for business as usual. But the headline made it sound as if the fires are so bad that saying what isn't burning is easier than saying what is.
The largest fire, the Whitewater-Baldy fire in the Gila Wilderness, has seared almost 300,000 acres, or 464 square miles. It's 87% contained, but in the most rugged, inaccessible terrain, "islands" of fire are still burning. The Gila will have to wait for the monsoon rains in July to quench the blaze, to extinguish it completely.
Quench is such a wonderful word, wet but with a snap to it: as if squelch and crunch are in cahoots. It's a word that's crossed my mind often this week, the first of summer, with the sun at its zenith and temperatures in Albuquerque mounting to 99°F/37C while humidity levels sink to 4 or 5%. This is the one time of year when walls around a small garden, trapping and concentrating heat, do not help. The garden is thirsty. The spring plantings are struggling. While the established things can take the heat, I'm doing a lot of hand-watering to keep the new ones alive. Every so often I forget one—or two, or three—or don't judge its needs quite right. (Prairie smoke/Geum triflorum: who knew it would be so fussy?) After two or three days the survivors among the younglings, despite thick mulch and deep watering, are already thirsty again.
I know how they feel. I don't think I've stopped being thirsty since moving to New Mexico, and summer is something else again. Summer is thirsty with exclamation points. With ashes from the latest fire in the bosque blowing on a hot wind, stinging your eyes and catching in your throat, a drink of cool, clear water is a precious thing. One glass follows another, all day long.
Thirst isn't really something you can quench. Slake, yes—another wonderfully wet word; a slurp in league with a lake. Slake comes from slacken, to let up, to ease. You can slacken thirst, offer it a little more play on the line. But you can't extinguish it. You can't put it out. You may think you have, but in a little while you, like the garden plants, will be thirsty all over again. The only way to quench thirst for good and all is to stop being alive.
I've always seen thirst, whether my own or the garden's, as kind of a nuisance. It's a need, a neediness, when there are more interesting things to do than to stop for a drink of water. In a way, though, needs like thirst are really signs of life. If we stop needing, we'll have stopped living. As the old saying goes, where there's life there's hope—and what is hope but another kind of thirst? You certainly don't want to quench it as if it were a wildfire, something dangerous and out of control. Instead you rejoice when it's slaked by even a trickle of whatever is water to your spirit. That trickle satisfies like a long, tall drink of water in a dry heat.
|Trickle: a drip befriending a tickle.|
At least for a while.