On one of my daily walks yesterday I counted 18 varieties of wildflowers in bloom on my small (ish) patch of high desert. This is my 24th summer on the hill, and one of the rainiest. In my memory, only the fourth or fifth time so many wildflowers have appeared. They range from sunflowers the size of baseballs to a tiny star-shaped blossom not much larger than the tip of a blunt pencil. Curiously, with only a trio of exceptions–clumps of white daisies, some ground-hugging blue four-o’clocks and waist-high purple thistles of the kind that once saved Scotland–all of the flowers on my hillside and on the slopes across our narrow valley are yellow.
There were earlier flowers this summer–red and yellow blossoms on the prickly pear and cholla cacti, flowers that show up in dry years as well as wet. The yellow roses on the prickly pear are now reddening fruit, much smaller than the ones for sale in Hispanic grocery stores. Too small to be of any use to humans, but I know for a fact that coyotes eat them–the scat I often find in my driveway during the winter is usually loaded with prickly pear seeds. The antler-like cholla, some of which are over 7 feet tall, grow a hard waxy fruit that turns yellow in the late fall, but I know of nothing that eats it. Some of the birds, maybe.
Speaking of birds, a couple of days ago a pair of pinon jays have returned to my feeders. Along with their cousins, the ravens, they summer up in the rugged canyons a few miles north of here. Their return is a harbinger of fall, and this year they’re a little early. Maybe they’re just after some handouts, because the turkey vultures are still roosting in the cottonwoods along the creek bottom, still riding the thermals each afternoon. When they finally take wing and head for Texas, or wherever they spend the winter, THAT’S the day I’ll head in to Tractor Supply and buy a few bags of stove pellets.
Other than birds, there’s a fair amount of wildlife around here. Mule deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, rabbits and (very rarely) black bear and mountain lions. The deer and coyotes rarely cross my land in daylight, but quite often during the night. And a few times a year, sadly, we find the bodies on the nearby highway–usually a rabbit or a deer, sometimes a coyote or a fox. And once a smallish black bear. We have found lion tracks near our water tanks, but have never seen one. About a year ago, a neighbor across the valley saw a lioness and two large cubs lope across her yard in broad daylight. And I once watched a black bear for about 15 minutes as it ambled along the creek below my house.
There was a time, shortly after we moved up here on the hill, when coyotes and foxes took a heavy toll on our chickens, turkeys and geese. It was our fault for allowing the birds free range, which caused the predators to view us as their local supermarket. Good fences cured that, and now the sighting of a coyote is fairly rare, and always at a distance. They keep checking us out, though–every few days I find coyote scat within a few feet of our front porch. Unlike most of my neighbors, I find it hard to hate ’em–they have a tough time keeping food on the table.