August, 1995
Cave Creek Canyon, AZ

Desert Storm. To most, these words hold a negative connotation--memories of smart missiles, Saddam Hussein, the Persian Gulf War. For me, these words evoke visions of lightning bolts flashing across an endless sky, arcing over pink rhyolite cliffs--cliffs rising out of the cholla, mesquite, juniper, cat-claw, apache plume--cliffs rising out of the Chihuahuan desert scrub.

It is the monsoon season in southern Arizona; the air is filled with electricity. Larry and I no longer dare to hike the crest trail. Fly Peak, Chiricahua Peak , Winn Falls, Round Park, for now, are treasured memories. Desert storms appear suddenly, without warning. Just as suddenly they disappear.

I love these storms. Their display is magical. I feel awe. I feel fear. An ancestral longing--buried, but not dead--burns in my body. I want to fling myself outside to make love to the natural world. Raw. Wild. And sensual. Instead, I open the sliding glass door, walk out on the porch, and watch. There is an explosion of color in the western sky. Each time, it takes my breath away. What follows is a peacefulness, a calming of life. I hear the mewing of a spotted towhee . Bird song returns and all feels right with the world.

The smell of creosote bush floats up the bajada. I breathe in, breathe out-inhale, exhale, inhale . There's no sweeter breath than desert air after a storm.

I witnessed a desert storm today. I was an uninvited guest at a royal banquet where the gods played their mystical games and I was allowed to watch. The gods have retreated to the heavens now. A coyote howls. I hear spotted towhee, canyon towhee, Lucy's warbler, Bewick's wren, Gambel's quail, Anna's hummingbird, Scott's oriole. The birds are singing--love songs to the desert sky.

Larry is in Baltimore for four days. But I am not alone here. It is hummingbird migration. Rufous and Calliope are abundant everywhere. They have abandoned their breeding grounds, making their way to Mexico--one tiny wing-beat at a time.

I decide to pack my camcorder, camera, tripod, borrow Bill's old truck, and head for a friend's place. 

I unlock the gate, drive in, and unpack my gear.  Setting up my tripod, I feel something lightly touch my skin. It is cold. It is damp. It is rain. Rain. Soft, female rain. Withdrawn into my thoughts, I hadn't noticed the darkening sky. The clouds roll in, more closely resembling a darkened sea. The wind-waves lash at me, the trees, the feeders. Quickly, I move my gear inside. Lightning flashing, striking up by Rustler's Park. Lightning, more lightning--still at a distance, still little rain.

I walk outside again. It is cold; it is dark. The sycamores sway. They bend. Their white trunks resemble ghosts in the nighttime sky.

Something moves along the far bank of Cave Creek. I hear the sound of rocks slipping into the water. I think bear, then coati. The movement stops. I scan the bank, glimpse a flash of light, and for an instant, I stare into gooseberry-colored eyes. Even a mountain lion must be awed by these storms.

As quickly as they arrived, the clouds fold back, roll away--beyond Silver Peak, Portal Peak, and Barfoot Lookout. Arching over Cave Creek is a small rainbow. Spilling out of the rainbow are tiny angels of light. Rufous. Calliope. Black-chinned. Blue-throated. Anna's. Violet-crowned. Broad-tailed. Broad-billed. Lucifer. Costa's. Magnificent. The rainbow has broken apart. Fragments hang from every throat. These angels are so beautiful that my heart hurts to look at them. They cover the mesquite, sycamores, juniper, acacia, and all fifteen hummingbird feeders! No one will believe this, I think. I run for my camera and camcorder, shouting all the way, "Thank you, sweet Jesus, please let them stay." Jesus, the gods, someone, perhaps Artemis, answered that prayer.

Larry returned from Baltimore that evening.  For the next few days, we counted feathered angels and searched Cave Creek for gooseberry-colored eyes.

1997 Terrie Gates

 

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