The hot desert has begun to cool. The sun beams through a blue November sky and the air is warm, delicious and seductive, no longer overbearing and unbearable. Other than that there are no obvious signs that autumn has come, at least that I can see. The trees remain green. Flowers continue to bloom. And it is business as usual for cold-blooded creatures – insects, arachnids, and reptiles.
The road takes me north. At this time of year it seems contrary to nature to head in this direction but the desert plants do their best to deceive. Joshua trees abound and they remain green, as ever. If the mesquite are planning on losing their leaves their color does not betray this intent. It is only near water that autumn’s advances become apparent. The cottonwood trees neither lie nor pretend, their golden leaves ablaze in the afternoon sun.
The Paiutes called this place Pahranagat, valley of shining water. It is one of those rare areas in this thirsty land where life can flourish. And yet, ironically, it is here that nature is unable to hide that the days are growing shorter and that the snow line is creeping slowly downward, inexorably, from the mountain tops toward the valley floors. The willows have yellowed. Most grasses are various shades of brown, as are the rushes at the water’s edge. The rabbit brush that only a few weeks ago was in bloom and abuzz with swarms of bees is quiet, the flowers gone.
Birds abound. Some are residents and stay the year round – Gambel’s quail, red-tailed hawks, Canada geese and coots. Many are visitors, refugees actually, fleeing from something they know in their bones they cannot survive. Thousands of waterfowl congregate on the lakes and the waterways that connect them. Passerines of various sizes and colors chase each other among the tree tops or scramble for seeds in the bushes below. The desert is silent but the marshes ring with the calls and the cries of a multitude, seen and unseen, the song of the body electric, a place alive with life. But winter will, in the end, have the last say.