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Saturday, December 21, 2019

Winter Is — Here? Now? Is It?

Morning cattle
For more than a week now, when I walk out the cabin door every morning with my dog, I revel in the sunshine and the quiet peace that surrounds me like a comforting shawl around my shoulders (until neighbor dogs get to barking, and that’s a kind of comfort, too), and every day I marvel at the fact that it isn’t winter yet. That’s how it has seemed to me, anyway, coming from wintry, cold, very snowy Michigan. Here in the high desert there is still foliage on the trees, and while the temperature goes down to maybe 20 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, it’s back up in the 40s, 50s or even 60s by the next afternoon. Frost appears on the ground every morning, true. But unless a hard, bitter wind is blowing, the morning air doesn’t feel all that cold — not when the sky is clear and bright with sunshine.

last week 
The giant cottonwood in Railroad Park in Willcox is one of my favorite trees, one I never fail to admire every time we drive across the tracks. Maybe its leaves are not quite as brightly gold as they were last week (but then, I photographed the tree from a different direction, with the light falling on it differently, too), but at least the wind hasn’t blown those leaves all off and away yet. Many hold fast.

Netleaf hackberry
Closer to home, here in Dos Cabezas, the tree species and individuals I watch most closely to see how long they will hold their leaves are the netleaf hackberry trees. Some still have green leaves, others’ leaves are shriveled and brown, and most are thick with red berries. In fact, trees with only a few brown leaves left have a reddish tinge when seen from a distance, so thick with berries are their branches. 

green leaves, red berries
brown leaves, red berries
What evolutionary advantage, I wonder, do these trees achieve by having such a incredibly thick, snarled tangle of branches? Netleaf hackberry is not a conventionally “lovely” tree, and yet it is ubiquitous here, so it must be well adapted to the climate and terrain. Many birds and other wildlife enjoy its berries, and Native Americans used berries, wood, and bark in a variety of ways. It belongs here, and the more familiar it becomes to me, the fonder I become of it.

As for the mesquites, some of them are bare, and green leaves cling to others. What is it that can make that difference? It isn’t whether the plants are growing down in the wash or up on higher ground, because both bare and still-leafy specimens are found in both high and low places. 

Sarah sniffs tips of green-leafed mesquite branches
We've got mail!
Today is the official beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere, despite my impression of lingering autumn. Well, let winter come. Our propane heater is working, we had a delivery of fuel the other day, we have plenty of warm clothes, cozy throws and comforters, and shelves full of books for evenings at home. (I don’t write this in smug, self-complacency but in gratitude.) During our bedtime reading aloud, we have reached the part of Julia Child’s story when her correspondence began with Avis DeVoto. I love the letters those two wrote to each other, and I remember when a friend in Australia whom I’ve never met face to face — as Julia never met Avis in person for I don’t remember how long — was reading the letters at the same time I was. Reading and exchanging our views about Avis and Julia’s letters, their personalities and expressions and activities, formed much of the foundation of Kathy’s and my initial correspondence.

Oh, books and letters, letters and books! Winter is such a perfect time for both! And how well they go together! Let winter come. The snow was lovely here in Dos Cabezas last winter, but as of the present winter solstice, snow has yet to arrive.

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