We have two kinds of trees in southeastern Arizona, above the desert and below the higher altitude pines. Well, really three kinds: Scrub oak, juniper, and dead. There’s a lot of the latter after … how long has this drought gone on? A couple decades?
Dead trees and dry riverbeds have become normal. I have to assume there was a time when droughts were shorter, Arizona was lush, desert wildflowers did not merit headlines after a good winter’s rain, and no matter where you lived you knew the location of the nearest swimming hole.
When I moved here I was astonished that pretty much all the rivers are dry. I have occasionally seen a trickle flowing through the center of an otherwise parched tan river bed – a trickle that as a Midwesterner I would almost call a creek — where a raging river once roamed.
What’s a river in Arizona called? A wash.
What’s a wash? A dry ex-river, or a concrete construction, down which water pours when it rains. See, in the cities, development has stripped off the topsoil and all brush or other living things, leaving a flat expanse of dirt the size of the lot. Many people like that. They call it “clean.” Even if their house lot has plants still growing when they move in, they will bring in a bulldozer to strip it off. Strip it clean.
Then, when it rains, the water has no place to sink in. So it flows. Off the property, off the neighbor’s property, into the street, and then down the closest wash, taking with it debris and dirt and the occasional idiot driver who thinks they can cross the flooded street. I lived close to a wash in the city for a few months. Every time it rained hard, neighbors rushed to the wash to watch the water. It was a party.
For a short time – in one of my several attempts to settle and create a home – I had a five acre lot onto which I thought I would put a manufactured home. It was flat, and had a decent amount of vegetation (for the desert just outside the city) – brush, mesquite and the like.
A neighbor told me all the local lots flood up to four inches when it rains. That got me thinking. I had three dogs at the time, two big ones and a terrier. Ooh. Big dogs, big poop. Flood + poop = poop soup?
I defaulted on the land and sold the trailer. No poop soup. (No connection.)
Next time you see a photo of a dust devil or giant dust storm in the Southeast, be aware that flying dust is not only the product of the drought. It’s the product of the actions of people. Lots of folks out are developing, publicizing, researching and implementing ways of living on and shaping the earth that preserve water, replenish the soil and enrich humans’ quality of living. But so far, they are in the minority.