The peace of rain

Schnebly Hill vistaIt was raining when I woke this morning. Not an electricity-charged toad-strangler, but a quiet rain, a thoughtful rain.

I considered not walking at all. I was cranky and stiff after a fitful night’s sleep. It had been a rough week and I still carried stress in my neck and shoulders.

But I grab an old fold-up umbrella and step into the morning damp anyway. The umbrella efficiently snaps open, but I discover two ribs have worn through ties at their tips, and the silk slides back up toward the apex of the crown.

No matter, I am off.

I look back at the house for a moment as I walk up the drive. The nandina bends against the storm, its branches first bowing to the weight of the rain and then springing upward as the wet drips away. Large drops from the eaves hit the porch rail and burst into dozens of droplets that fell to the ground below.

It is a day of novel movement and complex energy. A day of discovery.

I discover that my sight is muted, allowing hearing and touch to push to the fore. The turtle rain against the outside of the umbrella sounds a musical counterpoint, each note altered by the angle of the silk cover. I strive to capture the motif’s pattern as a larger drop hits like the final riff of an exuberant drummer.

Farther away, I hear the rain contacting each leaf of the trees I pass under. Hard. Then soft. Then brittle. Each drop echoes the texture of branch and leaf. A plane passes overhead, its roar muted to a growling rumble. As I stroll, I find that I am moving slower but seeing more. I start to center and my breathing deepens.

The rain blows into my face, softly misting my glasses, and I twirl the umbrella canopy on its aluminum shaft, trying to position the “short side” away from my face. My arms are getting damp, small drops clinging to the short hairs, then running down my forearm in larger streams. As I swing my arms, my fingertips encountered the rain concretely, each finger sharply pinged with rain.

Should I turn back? No, I decide. I can handle this. I won’t melt. I stiffen my back to the discomfort and trudged forward.

Patched asphalt on the road ahead becomes a series of black sightless mirrors that shatter in the wake of a car whooshing past. The car’s momentum scoops up mist from the road, creating a cloud entourage that scurries along underneath its carriage.

As I near one house two Springer spaniels rush to the screen porch in a howling frenzy. I’ve passed them many times before—maybe I have turned into a new creature under this umbrella?

In the mist, the color palette has shrunk to mostly grays and greens. Even the wildflowers—the red of penstamen and the wild white of daisies are dimmed by the rain, their energy cloistered. The sky lowers and the horizon shortens. As I notice more details, I find my mind slowing, calming. I consciously match the pace of the rain with my steps.

I find that I am in a much smaller world than yesterday. Yesterday was sunny, with winds and clear air and wide vistas. And that difference is fine. I seek shelter, here under the umbrella against the world’s hassles and demands. I can hide here.

The birds are hiding, too. The sparrows and finches are silent; the jays chatter in the tree branches, but don’t venture into the rain. Every so often a robin darts to the ground to snatch a grub, and then dives under the drier branches to eat it.

As I approach a small pond, our resident great blue heron takes flight. Usually I can pass quite close to him, but he, too, is spooked by this new shape of human-with-umbrella.

The algae on the water shivers under the onslaught of the rain, and I turn toward home.

The rain is collecting now on the trees overhead. Each leaf gathers rain differently: On a large deciduous trees, moisture runs along the center spine and collects as a drop at the tip of each leaf. Nearby, waxy Pampas grass spires allow each drop to poise unmoving in a mosaic of miniature puddles. In the field beyond, the smaller grasses bow before the rain’s influence like carefully combed hair.

As I near home, I realize that walking in the rain this morning has become a meditation, a gratefulness for gifts given. I stomp my feet as I enter the garage, and collapse the umbrella in a shower of drops.

I feel calmer, more centered.

It has been a good start for the morning’s work, this gathering of peace in the rain.

Circling back to the beginning: a Free Kindle mystery!

Death in Copper Town, a Pegasus Quincy MysteryAbout four years ago I decided to write a mystery series based on young rookie sheriff’s deputy who lived in the Verde Valley of Arizona.

The Verde is a unique place, an oasis in the middle of the Arizona desert, with one major river and five tributary creeks.

It is on the flight path between Mexico and points south, and the entire US and points north, which means seven kinds of hummingbirds, golden AND bald eagles, and 300 hundred + other birds to watch!

 

It has a huge cement plant, a salt mine, pecan orchards, wine vineyards, a thriving artists’ colony, and some of the most magnificent red rock scenery in the world.

PLUS, a real live ghost town.

In short, a milieu crying out for a mystery series to be created. I wrote five books in rough draft, and then circled back around to start rewriting and publishing. The first, DEATH in COPPER TOWN, begins the journey for my heroine, Pegasus Quincy, with her adjustment to life as a cop, in an environment very different from her native Tennessee.

As a Valentine’s gift to you this week, 2-12 through 2-16, please accept a free Kindle copy of this debut novel through Amazon using this link. Enjoy!

The setting of FIRE IN BROKEN WATER: Montezuma’s Well

Montezuma's Well

When I chose the setting for the third Pegasus Quincy Mystery novel, Fire in Broken Water, which centers around the ongoing Water Wars in Arizona, I knew parts of it had to be located at Montezuma’s Well.

The Well is surrounded with mystery and magic. Who expects to see this blue-green water in the midst of the high desert terrain of the upper Verde Valley? As you climb up 500 feet to the summit of the limestone sink, white-gray limestone cliffs are peopled with spare junipers struggling for survival, along with some spindly creosote and scrub oak.

In the spring, and later in the fall after the monsoon rains you’ll find a colorful display of desert wildflowers including yellow prickly-pear cactus, blue lupine, and orange globemallow. There’s  also a variety of birds: raptors such as the kestril and red tailed hawk, scrub blue jays, the black crested phainopepla, and tiny bushtit.

Once you reach the top, look over the edge into a blue-green lake. Montezuma’s Well was originally an underground basin, fed by freshwater springs. When the top collapsed, the Well was formed. It has Indian ruins around the inner edge and another cave down at the bottom, near the flow-through channel to Oak Creek below.

Perhaps because of the warm spring water (a constant high 70-degrees in temperature), the Well is home to five species of critter found nowhere else in North America, including a unique type of water scorpion. No fish, though, because the water is too high is carbonation–over 80 times the level of normal freshwater–and contains arsenic leached from the surrounding rock formations.

The depths of the Well have been explored by scuba teams recently, and their findings are fascinating!

 

The Well was named by early settlers, but was never seen by the Aztec leader Montezuma. However, it is held sacred by the surrounding Indian tribes. The Hopi call it “sun spring,” the Yavapai, ʼHakthkyayva or, “broken water,” and the Western Apache, “Water Breaks Open.” The last two refer to an unusual feature of the well, an underground tunnel, or swallet about 150 feet long that acts like the safety drain on your sink, allowing the overflow water from the well to pour out of solid rock into an irrigation ditch on the outside of the formation.

Montezuma Well swallet

 

There, the air is cool and moist–over 20 degrees cooler than on top–Columbines and wild watercress grow in the mossy waters.

 

 

 

Montezuma Well canal

 

At this point the water is diverted into an irrigation ditch over a thousand feet long, built Indian tribes centuries ago and still used today for cattle ranches downstream. The high limestone content of the water has coated the sides of the canal, similar to the sides of a swimming pool.

 

 

 

Here, take a walking tour of Montezuma’s Well to experience the stark difference between the arid land at the top of the Well and the moist-creekside environs at the bottom.

More than 90% of the springs in Northern Arizona have been lost as the result of underground pumping, too many wells depleting the ground water and periodic droughts. This sometimes sets neighbor against neighbor in the struggle between development and natural beauty. Montezuma’s Well dwells in the midst of this dispute, quiet and serene over the centuries.

 

Photo credits:
Top picture by Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
Remaining pictures of the irrigation ditch by: Dana Hunter and Fredlyfish4 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0