Having experienced one or two mini-droughts here, and a catastrophic one in Afghanistan during the 80’s and 90’s, I have a particular liking for deluges, and a recurrent nagging fear of seasons when it’s supposed to rain but doesn’t.
The one in Afghanistan was the real deal: it went on for close to a decade, and was part of a radical drought that covered much of South and Central Asia. Traveling through Wardak and Ghazni in 2002, you would have passed through a stricken landscape of dust, dead trees and abandoned farms. The walled compounds of Pushtun farms stood empty, gates banging in the hot wind.
Byron had journeyed through here in the 1930s, and described a countryside covered in wildflowers; now there was nothing, not even the hardy grass that seems to survive on even the driest ground in Afghanistan. The mountains to the east, the southernmost spill of the Hindu Kush, broiled like boneyards, heaps of molten metal, in the sun. Lines from Eliot’s The Wasteland sprang to mind automatically:
“Here is no water but only rock. Rock and no water and the sandy road…Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit…There is not even silence in the mountains, but dry sterile thunder without rain…”
When we got to the ancient city of Ghazni, we found the Kochi nomads were
Selling off their herds and jewelry and giving up their centuries-old herding life on the trails: it just wouldn’t work anymore, not with the seasonal meadows and oases disappearing. It was the stuff of great tragedy, of a timeless way of life vanishing forever…
A tiny version of that happened here in the San Juans in the winter of 1975-6. It snowed a little bit in November, and then the winter stopped dead in its tracks.
Night after night clouds formed, joined together, and then faded away, as if the moon and stars were devouring them. The ski area finally gave up and closed sometime after the new year; by then you could walk up to the big boulder in Bear Creek wearing flip flops, and Ajax and the other guardian peaks wore sickly thin shrouds of thawing neve’ instead of their usual dense snowpack.
A few springs ago there was a similar dry spell. It would try to rain, and after a minute or two the drops would stop falling, the clouds would thin, and the sun would be blazing again. In mid-summer the storms finally showed up, just in time to green the forests and meadows, but for a few weeks you got a spooky taste of what happens when the climate does one of its periodic twitches…
We all live on the uneasy edge in a place like this, far from the oceans, where if the winds curve north or south, or their punch fails, we are left literally high and dry. Tell you what, I’ll be happy when the thunder gets really loud one of these evenings, like the mountain gods are tossing anvils the size of houses down giant elevator shafts, and the rain starts and doesn’t stop, battering down all night long, and there are still drizzling cloudlets hanging on the mountainsides and canyon walls come morning.