The world around me is dry. The rains have been infrequent, fitful in their inconstancy with the things that depend on them. There is still life here, but it seems muted, quiet and waiting. The hillsides are gray green with parched sagebrush and the sere browns of annual grasses long gone to seed, emptied husks of wild oat clinging to dry stalks in the cool west wind of morning, looking like so many pennants flying from the lance tips of a miniature army, one that will never advance from here nor return home.
On this dewy morning, the funnel webs of grassland spiders no longer cast their silver coating over the ground. Rather the webs are far apart, scattered bits of lace, sparse as the rains themselves. And though there is dew from the humid air driven north by a storm off the Mexican coast, the rain, if it comes at all, will do no more than moisten this ground.
The cactus wrens are going through the motions of nest building, but there may be no eggs laid this year for food is scarce. A gnatcatcher appears out of nowhere over a wren, hovering, trying to chase it off. Perhaps the gnatcatchers have managed to bring off their brood this year in spite of the drought. Though few, fence lizards and rabbits find enough to eat—for now. Two-inch holes dot the trail and lead up the hill where gopher runs have caved in, but there is only a handful of freshly dug earth here and there. The red-tailed hawks will be hungry this summer.
Ashy-leaf buckwheat has seemed to run through its blooming cycle quickly this year. It is still June, yet the flower heads already show tinges of the brick red hue they will take on in another month. This morning, there is only a scattering of insects out on these flowers, mostly honey bees, syrphid flies and a lone bee fly, but this is as much a matter of no sun as little left that files.
Three chimney bees fight briefly for access to the one bloom on a cactus pad. The flower is beautiful; a rosy-lipped yellow cup lush with its filling of bright stamens and central pistil, but it is the only cactus blossom visible from where I stand. The emergence holes in the ground suggest a moderate population of bees will fly this year, probably fewer than last year, but unless more cactuses come into flower soon, they will be hard to find next year. Scarcity is the theme, and its shadows lie everywhere on the landscape. They will remain there for a long time to come.