These Precious Days
By Jessica Shepherd
We are in Tucson visiting family. Just now, we’re relishing the cool after a brief rainstorm. First, the thunder came rumbling in from a distance, moving closer until BOOM! A sound overhead like a giant hammer against a metal drum. Then the downpour raged on the roof and spilled down the gutters until the storm continued on its way. Within minutes, the thunder receded to a muffled rumble as the clouds swept north toward the Santa Catalina Mountains. Now droplets held by the palo verde and mesquite trees sparkle with the return of the sun, and the smell of rain in the desert rises up. That combination of creosote bush and wet stone. The birds, quiet during the rain, resumed singing with the “chur-chur-chur” of a cactus wren, and the “we-wheat, we-wheat” of a curved bill thrasher.
Over the past several days, Hal and I, accompanied by my seven-year-old granddaughter Dorothy, have visited the Sonoran Desert Museum amid the butterflies and hummingbirds, driven up from the desert floor into the fragrant pines and aspens atop Mount Lemon, and hiked gravel trails through the Sonoran Desert National Park surrounded by saguaro cactus that reach up their spiny arms as if in supplication. Dorothy acts as our tour guide, her voice eager as she calls, “This way. Come on!”
I have missed too many months of her life due to Covid. I hold her sometimes sticky hand and savor these few days of closeness with my girl, who is turning eight tomorrow. She is growing up in a world I would never have wished for her. A world entangled in an escalating war. A world challenged by climate change, social unrest, and school shootings. I would shelter her from all of it if I could.
While I endeavor to make this pilgrimage annually, this is Hal’s first visit to the region. Despite the heavy traffic and the sprawl of shopping malls and fast-food chains, we are smitten with the Sonoran Desert.
We are staying in a bed & breakfast on the far eastern edge of this ever-expanding city. Here the houses are spaced apart by several acres, and wildlife retains a firm foothold. Coyotes amble across the road, and great horned owls hoot at night. After the rain, ocotillos leaf out amid robust jumping cholla, late flowering prickly pear cactus, and autumn-gold grasses. The birdlife is abundant, with the chit-chit-chit-chit of a verdin, the soft whisper of Anna’s hummingbirds, the occasional flash of a pair of bright cardinals, and the “cheer-cheer-cheap” of house finches throughout the day.
I hope to instill in Dorothy a love of songbirds, shady trees, towering rocks, and all things wild. And at the end of a day with us, she goes home with her pockets and hands full of small stones glinting with mica, acorns with their little caps, and a knot from a tree burned by a recent fire that resembles a pipe a stout dwarf would smoke.
The parks and museums we visit have displays and short videos about increasing temperatures and drought, and I ask her if she’s heard of climate change. She has not. I tell her about the pollution from cars called carbon dioxide that acts like a blanket around the planet – allowing the warming particles from the sun to enter our atmosphere, but then traps them so they can’t easily escape. She doesn’t seem interested, and I don’t push it. While I want her to know the words and begin to grasp the concepts, I don’t want to burden her with news too awful to bear for one so young. Time enough for that. Instead, I focus on making the most of these precious days.