Hot time on the earth tonight!
Wait and see how the mercury will climb
Man’s demise, it’ll come just give it time
Because the air is filled with CO2 and grime
There’ll be a hot time on the old earth tonight!
The first rain in two months fell Wednesday night and it came with a deep, collective sigh from every living thing. When we cheer the rain in sunny Colorado, it’s a sign of the times. Enough of clear skies and broiling sun.
Mother Earth has a fever and we’re feeling her heat. The hottest summer on record … a real sizzler … dryer ‘n a popcorn fart. Colloquialisms underlie the fundamental truth that we live in an arid place.
Wallace Stegner wrote: “The West, vast and magnificent, greatly various but with the abiding unity of too little water … has proved fragile and unforgiving. Damaged by human rapacity or carelessness, it is more likely to go on to erosion gullies and desertification than to restore itself.”
Desertification is what we’re tasting in the dry, hot, smoky air. The desert is taking hold and it grows more ominous and threatening with every rainless day. Pity the Anasazi Indians who vanished during a prolonged drought 800 years ago. We feel your pain.
Desertification becomes particularly acute during global warming. Mean temperatures are up around the world and still climbing. Forecasts call for melting ice caps, widespread flooding along coastlines, parched famine elsewhere. Real estate in Yellowknife begins to look good.
If you need tangible proof of global warming, hike up to the north cirque of Pyramid Peak and watch the boulders calve into the pool on the edge of the rock glacier. That pool has more than doubled over the past 40 years, keeping pace with the retreat of glaciers worldwide. The Earth is having a meltdown.
What, me worry? We drive our cars and contribute CO2 to the air. And when it gets hotter, we crank up the AC, generating yet more CO2. We abandon the Kyoto Protocol and buy interest-free cars. Something’s gotta give.
In Aspen last week, the thermometer pegged the high 80s. Paonia averaged in the mid-90s. In Grand Junction, it was 103. Whoa, baby, it’s hot out there! No rain, lots of wind and plenty of smoke from the immolation of our national forests, the fires set – surprise! – not by terrorists but by Forest Service employees.
Last week, riding the Rio Grande trail, the heat was almost unbearable on south-facing slopes. Every leafy plant and shrub was wilted and crispy brown. It was the same on a recent hike up Conundrum Creek, where wildflowers were stunted with hardly a bloom. Alpine grasses were dry and crunchy. The trail was powdered with talcumlike dust two inches deep.
“There’s blood in the toilet!” said my wife with alarm on Monday. It wasn’t blood; it was fine, silty, red sand, the residue from our well. Wells are drying up at 20 times the normal rate around here, said the well driller I called. Time to conserve. No vegetable garden this summer. Let the grass turn brown, the trees spread their roots.
Fire. We live with the threat daily. It wouldn’t take much up here to turn the Frying Pan into a charbroiler. Our escape route to the river would mean “Out of the fire and into the Frying Pan.” Our forward-thinking neighbors have a 7,000-gallon tank in the ground with a motorized pump and 300 feet of hose. First defense may be the only defense.
The desert creeps in with hot, dry breath. The sun blasts down through the smoke like a heat lamp and it’s only the start of July. What will the next several months bring? The next several years? The Anasazi probably asked the same questions.
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For the past five-plus years I have sat in a big chair in a small office on Hyman Avenue watching life in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley play out in front of me.