Holding on to Our Water for Dear Life

It’s fun to go out and read the weather by looking down, too. It gives a longer term view. For instance, the really poor shape of the early season cheat grass below suggests that although it was wet in the fall and this stuff entered winter in great shape, it has taken a beating on exposed southern slopes: by sun, cold, and then by sun again. What snow there was had little positive effect here. It didn’t flow down-slope. It evaporated.

It’s like reading a very slow barometer. The atmospheric pressure has been high on these aspects for most of the winter, and continues to be so in the spring. That’s a long-term trend. Even this snake hole is awfully exposed. Much of that cheatgrass is stunted and sick, even where not flattened by a snake hanging out.

And it’s not just the cheatgrass. The mustards, which started growing in September, are stressed as well. Look at the yellow leaves below, and the pale colour of the plants overall.

Look at how dry the exposed soil is between them, too, how friable, and how little of that gopher throw has been covered up with mustards or pig weeds at all. That is an indication that August was terribly dry as well (which it was). For eight months, in other words, the weather has trended towards dryness. When it has been wet, the earth had little hold on the water against the high pressure drought of the air. That’s the thing about weather in these slopes east of the mountains: water only stays when low pressure gets pushed in here and is continually renewed from outside. When that doesn’t happen, then the rotation of the earth locks high pressure here and any remaining water is lifted away. We can actually see that. The puddle below hung around long enough in June’s rains last year to dissolve the dust that had blown into it in April, but then dried out very quickly in the high pressure air, leaving cracks like a turtle’s back. Look, though, how wild amaranth is surviving (better than the cheat grass above) by inhabiting deep cracks away from the sun, which the dry air amplifies. If rain does fall, the soil is so dry it will shed it, but the cracks won’t.  

In this respect, amaranths have a better resilience to this climate than either mustards or cheatgrass. Look again:

Cheatgrass has a hard time on tilled soil. It likes the shelter of other plants (and then steals their water.) Once it has been established, it will continually reseed itself, in that, in moss, whether, but not on exposed soil, or at least not well. Can we predict the weather by this method? Not day by day, but long-term trends begin to show their patterns, especially the most important one: water is important here but less important than the cloud cover that holds it in place. We can’t do a whole lot about the clouds that blow in from the ocean (or not):

… but we can stop looking at them as our water. Our water is what we keep.


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